I may be some time
August 17, 2004 6:53 AM   Subscribe

"The story of Scott's last expedition to the south pole will, I feel sure, be already known to many of you ... it is one which for courage, endeavour, endurance and unselfishness even in the face of death, will, I feel, never be surpassed.... I feel you will understand the difficulties met with when I tell you that the negatives from which these slides were made and the slides themselves were developed and washed with the aid of melted ice."
posted by rory (11 comments total)
These original slides from Scott's fateful expedition, along with accompanying text "adapted from the hand written notes, we believe, of the expedition surgeon Dr. Atkinson", were posted to the web by one of Atkinson's descendents, English engineer Arthur Mitchell. The slides are stunning:

"The Clarity of the air may be realised when we recognise that the iceberg seen in the foreground of the picture is fully a 1/4 mile from the ship, yet despite the distance every rope of the rigging is clearly seen, and the stillness is such that human voices speaking in ordinary tones could be heard at a distance of almost one mile."

But even the slides can't match the impact of the tragic tale told alongside them: Ponting and the killer whales; the fate of the ill-chosen ponies; the self-sacrifice of Captain Oates; and Scott's deeply moving final entries.
posted by rory at 6:53 AM on August 17, 2004

PS: The links to hi-res versions have broken since I first found this site a few years ago. Beware also of the 'home' link, which has a broken link pointing back to the slides. Start from the first link above and you'll be fine.
posted by rory at 6:58 AM on August 17, 2004

He refused to use dogs because he thought man-hauling was more noble and English and virtuous. It was a pointless sacrifice of good men. Meanwhile Amundsen went down and back safely with dogs. The whole thing became mythologized beyond belief. Nice pictures though.
posted by anser at 7:44 AM on August 17, 2004

Sledge dogs were obtained from Canada and hardy ponies from Siberia, while men accustomed to handling these animals were included in the party. An innovation for a Polar party at that time was the inclusion of three motor sledges in the equipment, these being stowed in packing cases on the deck of the ship. Great hopes were centred on these sledges, hopes that unfortunately were never realised. Every available inch of space on board was taken up with provisions, clothing, scientific instruments and stores of all kinds. The dogs seemed to find ample shelter among the sacks of coal which were heaped on the deck. Altogether the party consisted of 65 officers and men, together with 33 dogs and 19 ponies.

Sufficient fodder for the ponies could not possibly be included for both the outward and inward journeys, and the arrangement was that the ponies should be worked until they could do no more and then shot for food for the returning men. This way to some seems a rather cruel proceeding but we must remember that in these regions we are dealing with nature in the raw, transport is very strictly limited, food cannot be obtained on the journey unless it has already been provided in some form or other.

It was soon realised that the dogs were altogether much more suitable for the work but unless these could be obtained in very large numbers they would also have to be sacrificed when too weak to go further and this, Scott had decided objections to.

posted by rory at 8:08 AM on August 17, 2004

Speaking of disastrous expeditions, a few years back I wrote this "Sometimes it is the little things in life which do us in. It is said that the devil is in the details.

A popular saying sums this up "For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost. For want of a rider, the battle was lost. For want of a battle, the war was lost." Small effects can cascade upwards to have, ultimately, large results. The 1845 British Franklin expedition to discover the Northwest passage -which was recently made viable because Global warming has reduced the arctic ice pack- was done in by it's stores of lead lined cans of food which were at the time the state of the art in food preservation. The Franklin expedition sailors became mad as hatters and wandered about on the ice, their pockets filled with silverware, before dropping in their tracks.

The simple lack of attention paid to such small details - to tinned food or to a toothache, we will see in this essay, can have disastrous results. And so with our disregard for the physical world in which we live - the global environment.

Sometimes it is the little things in life which do us in. As we forge our way boldly into the future we enter unexplored territory . As we develop the startlingly revolutionarily transformative technologies of the new age - genetic engineering, information technologies, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology - we stride boldly - or rush headlong,
from another perspective - into a future we can barely begin to imagine.

So awesome does this glittering and menacing future seem to be as it rears up before us - so alluring are these technologies which would allow us to transform our minds and bodies, to break free of the limitations of the biological world and to, we hope ,leave pain, sorrow, and all manner of suffering behind - that I think we neglect the mundane. The allure of all of these new technologies gleams in and beckons at us with eschatological force, with the anticipation of transcendence of our condition which is the dream of most religions.

But I think that as we are caught up in this dream of transcendence we neglect those mundane processes which are happening before our eyes and under our noses.

THE 19th century was also a time of manifestos and eschatological rapture, a time of belief, for the western industrialized world, in conquest and transcendence. The Westerners sought to explore and control all corners of the globe as they plied the seas, mapped the continents,
grappled up the mountains, and built empires upon the backs of the less technologically sophisticated peoples of the world. There was a sense of unlimited power, of infinite scope, of the imminent arrival, somehow, of that break with history which would actually be the transcendence of all limitation. What this break would actually be was never clearly spelled out - but it seemed to have something to do with knowledge, with science, and with the cornucopia of technological inventions flowing from science. But that rupture with history, somehow, never came and meanwhile the mundane realities of nationalistic rivalry were neglected until they erupted in the ferocious series of World Wars
which marred the first half of the 20th century and which eviscerated the optimism of the age.

But the heroic spirit and the ignominious defeat of the rapturous spirit which characterized end of the 19th century is summed up best, I think, by the story of the 1845 Franklin expeditioners trapped in the pack ice of the North Pole but done in in the end, as was was recently discovered, by the lead to used to solder together the tins from which they ate their food. The expedition was lavishly equipped with all of the latest technology. And its members, entrapped in the ice, would have survived really, had it not been for this one small but crucial and ultimately disastrous detail - the leeching of lead.

When we enter unexpected territory , the stakes rise precipitously and it is those little details which can prove to be crucial in our success or in our destruction.

And so I worry that the eschatological fervor which characterizes our current age - and which is the really the urge to transcend the physical - blinds us to the more mundane biological realities of the planet on which we live. We are transforming our planet - without really even trying to do so. Loren Eiseley likened us, in one of his rather dark and prescient essays, to beavers with mechanical contrivances and, although I'm sad to say that we lack the comical nature of beavers, we surely possess all of their methodical, industrious zeal, and more. Certainly, in our rush to cut down the world's forests and dam the world's rivers and streams we are rather like beavers but the scale on which we work is, unfortunately, far vaster than that of those industrious rodents and we have, more importantly , vanquished all of the predators who once held the job of suppressing our numbers. We are beavers who operate unconstrained and on a global scale."

Annie Dillard has written, in one of her pyublished books, an excellent rumination on the tragedy of the Franklin Expedition.
posted by troutfishing at 8:11 AM on August 17, 2004

"I am just going outside and may be some time."

Now there's some damn stoic last words.

(Thanks for the link)
posted by briank at 10:59 AM on August 17, 2004

The photos are excellent and moving in their own way. I always get a chill (no pun intended) up my spine reading Scott's diary.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:28 PM on August 17, 2004

Here's one of the old pages with the back-story to the slides at the Wayback Machine.
posted by rory at 12:55 PM on August 17, 2004

Great find, rory.

I love the anthromorphic captions.
>Mrs. Penguin takes great pains that here mate does not slack or shirk at his part of the job.
Should he fail to come immediately she calls him, then when he does arrive it is to find himself caught by the back of the neck, forced into a stooping position and beaten soundly by the wifely flippers.
Having seen him safely posted for his spell of duty Mrs. Penguin will then waddle off and may be heard telling her lady friends in penguin language what a terrible husband she has got.

posted by philfromhavelock at 4:42 PM on August 17, 2004

Wonderful link, and very sad.
posted by litlnemo at 9:45 PM on August 17, 2004

I've been away but just as a followup - Scott's few dogs were the wrong kind, he never really believed in using them, the ponies and the motor sledges were follies. Ample information on dog "tech" was available (Amundsen used it). It was a terrible waste of men's lives.
posted by anser at 8:22 PM on August 20, 2004

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