Why didn't they ask Evans?
October 6, 2017 8:14 AM   Subscribe

The tragic death of Scott of the Antarctic and four companions on the return of his scientific expedition to the South Pole in 1912, has long been blamed on poor planning by Scott. But the discovery of new documents by University of New South Wales researcher Prof Chris Turney revealed today in the journal Polar Record show how the actions of another expedition member brought about their deaths and why it has been covered-up for over a century.

Through patient detective work, Prof Turney found documents that reveal how the second in command, Lieutenant Edward (Teddy) Evans, later the 1st Baron Mountevans, crucially undermined Scott - stealing rations from food depots and failing to pass on orders to a dog sled team that would have brought Scott home safely.

"The new documents suggest at the very least appalling leadership on the part of Evans or at worst, deliberate sabotage, resulting in the death of Scott and his four companions," said Prof Turney.
Early on multiple members of Scott's expedition developed doubts about Lieutenant Teddy Evans' role as second in command. Scott himself described Evans in letters as "not at all fitted to be second-in-command," and promised to "take some steps concerning this".

It is likely one of the reasons that Scott sent Evans back to base before he pushed on to the South Pole with four companions. But on the return journey from the Pole, Scott's expedition found rations carefully planted on the journey out had disappeared.

In addition, the updated orders Scott gave to Evans to send a dog team out to meet the returning expedition were seemingly never delivered. Instead Scott and his team were left to die alone and starving in a blizzard.
posted by orrnyereg (26 comments total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating stuff (and bonus points for the post title, orrnyereg).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 8:16 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

Jesus that's horrifying.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:17 AM on October 6 [11 favorites]

When trust is lost, all humanity is abandoned, even in the face of the worst adversity. Terrible.
posted by SPrintF at 8:20 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]

What AlonzoMosleyFBI said. Love reading about historical new discoveries, thank you ornyereg!
posted by Melismata at 8:22 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

He seems to have gone on to a respectable career. Served in both World wars.
What was his motivation to do this? Was he just rotten with scurvy?
posted by Bee'sWing at 8:26 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

Bloody hell.

A few years back I borrowed The Worst Journey in the World from the library. I only read pieces, but it was harrowing: the author, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, was part of Scott's team, who himself suffered tremendously – not only as part of the team who found the polar team's bodies, but as one of the ill-fated team who went to find emperor penguin eggs in the Antarctic winter. They lost their tent in a storm, and Cherry-Garrard lost most of his teeth because they were chattering so much at anywhere between -40 and -60 degrees celsius.

The thing that most sticks with me is the description of their return. They were seen as failures, and treated as such. To think that one of their own contributed to the deaths of the polar expedition and never said anything... Christ.
posted by mushhushshu at 8:31 AM on October 6 [7 favorites]

Oh cool! I mean, not cool what with all the death, but... cool. I just started reading Susan Solomon's The Coldest March, which also tries to exonerate Scott (at least somewhat).

Also, the scariest fictional thing I've ever read is Graham Masterton's story The Sixth Man, which posits a different reason for the failure of the Scott expedition.
posted by goatdog at 8:35 AM on October 6

I only clicked on this because of the title allusion but Christ, what a terrible and riveting story. Title by Agatha Christie, story out of Elizabeth Peters.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:36 AM on October 6 [6 favorites]

It always strikes me that they were desperate to be first to the pole, and instead they are far more famous than they would have been had they been successful. A haunting story, more so after reading this piece. What an awful revenge for Evans to enact.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:56 AM on October 6

He seems to have gone on to a respectable career. Served in both World wars.
What was his motivation to do this? Was he just rotten with scurvy?

Even the brief description of him in Wikipedia (see link above) suggests a person of less then sterling character.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:06 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

Evans barely made it back himself. If it weren't for the superhuman efforts of Tom Crean, he would have been dead as well.

I haven't had time to read this all of the way through, but I think the main takeaway I've had from reading about the Scott expedition is that there were a number of things that went wrong, and the expedition planning was just not robust enough to handle any of them, really. You can point to any one of them and say "that is what did it," but the truth is, they were riding on the razors edge between success and failure, and any one of those things could have been the cause.

This is especially stark when compared with the Amundsen expedition. The certainly had their own mishaps (the abortive initial start, the decision to not bring Johansen), but everything was planned and practiced in such excruciating detail that the execution seemed a fait accompli.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 9:13 AM on October 6 [12 favorites]

I was raised with the story that Scott was the hubris-filled Brit with poor planning & logistics, while Amundsen was the clear thinking pro who got there first AND brought his team back alive. I always thought of Scott like those British officers in Monty Python's Zulu War sketch

There was a BBC drama about it I remember, which ended with Amundsen giving a speech in London about the trip, and the MC say essentially, "Well, that was charming, but I know we all await professor Scott's return for a REAL tell of how it was, with REAL British science and without some foreigner's accent." (I paraphrase)

One of Amundsen's friends points out "The British prefer their heroes dead."

Fascinating stuff.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:13 AM on October 6 [9 favorites]

The Worst Journey in the World really brought humanity to the expedition and emphasized that Scott was a better and more thoughtful leader than has come down through history. Seeing that the selfish acts of one man squandered everything that the expedition sacrificed to gain enrages me.
posted by mrcrow at 9:15 AM on October 6 [2 favorites]

What was his motivation to do this? Was he just rotten with scurvy?

I mean, I think you answered your own question. By stealing supplies, he made it back himself alive, and by not bothering to coordinate a dogsled team, he made sure they didn't live to tell the tale of him stealing from them. Fucking chilling indeed.
posted by corb at 9:15 AM on October 6 [7 favorites]

From the wikipedia on Evans return:

With over 100 statute miles (160 km) still to travel before the relative safety of Hut Point, Crean and Lashly began hauling Evans on the sledge, "eking out his life with the last few drops of brandy that they still had with them". On 18 February they arrived at Corner Camp, still 35 statute miles (56 km) from Hut Point, with only one or two days' food rations left and still four or five days' man-hauling to do. They then decided that Crean should go on alone, to fetch help. With only a little chocolate and three biscuits to sustain him, without a tent or survival equipment, Crean walked the distance to Hut Point in 18 hours, arriving in a state of collapse.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 9:15 AM on October 6 [9 favorites]

Tom Crean, why does that name ring a bell? Of course, he was also second officer for Shackleton's expedition a couple years later, and performed similar heroics there.

I'll echo the sentiments that this was fascinating: I don't think it exonerates Scott for his own failures, but it does add a villainous dimension to the tragedy.
posted by The Nutmeg of Consolation at 9:45 AM on October 6 [5 favorites]

This reminds me of a story from Mawson's Antarctic Expedition told in "Alone On The Ice." After finishing their harrowing exploration, a small group of men were forced to spend nearly a year waiting for a rescue ship to arrive. The only contact with the outside world was the radio, unfortunately, the radio operator had a mental break and was convinced the other men were trying to kill him.
posted by drezdn at 10:04 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I'm happy to report that Tom Crean is well remembered in his native village of Annascaul, Dingle, Ireland, where he retired to open the South Pole Inn, still operating.
posted by mr vino at 10:26 AM on October 6 [21 favorites]

One of the great things about this stuff, is that all of the explorers expected to earn money by publishing accounts of their journeys, and it's all public domain now. So if you want to know more, there's lots to read:

The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard - A great read and probably the most enduring account of polar exploration written in this era.

Scott's Last Expedition by Robert Falcon Scott - from his journals

The South Pole; an account of the Norwegian Antarctic expedition in the "Fram," by Amundsen

South! The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-1917 by Shackleton

The Home of the Blizzard by Sir Douglas Mawson - About the Australian Antarctic Expidition, mentioned in thread

Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen - Amundsen's mentor. A crazy story of survival and an early attempt at the north pole. Well worth a read.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 10:54 AM on October 6 [18 favorites]

I'd never read much about Scott's expedition (the glorification of heroic British failure always annoyed me when I was a kid). While in this account Evans certainly comes out very badly, Scott's judgement still comes across as poor. They were relying on motorised sledges and yet Scott left behind Skelton, the man with most experience in their development, because Evans was jealous of Skelton's rank. The poor performance of the sledges was part of the cascading set of failures. Skelton's presence might have made a crucial difference, and his absence falls in the end on the commander Scott, even if it was at Evans' request.
posted by Azara at 11:03 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]

I'm more than a little obsessed with Scott, so many thanks for flagging this and I'm really looking forward to reading it. But it is worth pointing out that Scott chose Evans as his second in command, and took him on the polar journey. If Evans is the bad guy, it still does't let Scott off the hook for his errors.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:55 AM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I'm happy to report that Tom Crean is well remembered in his native village of Annascaul, Dingle, Ireland, where he retired to open the South Pole Inn, still operating.

If you ever have the opportunity to watch the one man Tom Crean show take it. It's been touring for years now and is a great work of theatre.
posted by roolya_boolya at 12:57 PM on October 6 [4 favorites]

I haven't had time to read this all of the way through, but I think the main takeaway I've had from reading about the Scott expedition is that there were a number of things that went wrong, and the expedition planning was just not robust enough to handle any of them, really.

Lazlo, it is definitely worth reading the article before coming to any conclusions. Turney is not simply drawing on the same papers and documents that have already been out in the public domain (like the ones you listed).

Turney's using unpublished, recently-discovered papers combined with original analysis. He uses papers that hadn't already been a part of the public domain materials around this expedition (such as exchanges between Lord Curzon and Kathleen Scott), and notes that the aforementioned public-domain materials appear to have been edited in a way that comes out in Evan's favor. It's not some guy throwing out a new theory based on papers anyone has had access to for decades. The result of his research raises questions about Evans and sheds light on some very troubling aspects of the expedition.

I think it would be a mistake for any of us to simply read through what is existing and assume that Turney is working from the same base of information that we are. The significance of his research is that he is not, and the new information he's dug up could really change existing perspectives on Evans, Scott, & Co.
posted by schroedinger at 2:24 AM on October 7 [6 favorites]

What was his motivation to do this? Was he just rotten with scurvy?

Turney lays out a case for incompetence and/or selfishness, and suggests the possibility of straight-up spite. Evans was extremely angry to not be chosen in the final push to the pole, and had previously drawn ire from other members of the group for taking more food (especially pemmican) than was his share.
posted by schroedinger at 2:32 AM on October 7 [1 favorite]

As schroedinger says, this is more than just another go through the existing materials. It's well worth a read if you have any interest in Scott, although (spoiler alert, I guess) there isn't a smoking gun as such. But it raises a lot of interesting issues, most of which we'll never have clear answers to, but none of which make Evans look good.
posted by YoungStencil at 7:55 AM on October 7

How in the world did he get away with not eating seal? Him almost purposefully getting scurvy caused so much pain, ignoring all of the other possibly shady dealings.

Regarding the cover-up, I guess it's good to be a baron.
posted by Trifling at 12:39 PM on October 7

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