This photograph is a composite image made by Ponting to  capture the desolation of the Polar Party.

A new collection of the last letters of Captain Scott and the Pole Party has been released to mark the centenary of the discovery of their bodies in 1912. The book brings together the final thoughts of Scott and his companions in a single volume for the first time.

Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.

Robert Falcon Scott

Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Dr Edward Wilson and Lieutenant Henry Bowers were found in their last camp, on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, 100 years ago today. They had been trying to make their way back through 800 miles of frozen wastes after their successful attempt on the South Pole.

Defined by a potent combination of heroism and tragedy, their expedition has, over the last century, become the stuff of British legend.

The Scott Polar Research Institute is currently attempting to raise £35,000 towards the purchase of one of the few of Captain Scott’s last letters still remaining in private hands. The letter, written to Sir Francis Bridgeman, is one of the most telling; in it Scott wrote, ‘I want to tell you that I was not too old for this job.’

The Institute holds many of Scott’s last letters and those of his companions among its collections and makes them accessible through its Polar Museum.

The book, The Last Letters: the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 has been compiled by the collections staff of the Scott Polar Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge, to enable the public to learn more about the contribution made during the “Heroic” age of Polar exploration, 100 years on.

The book’s launch will take place at 6.30pm at the Polar Museum on Thursday, 15 November. The event will be marked by a performance by singer-songwriter Jake Wilson of “All’s Well,” a collection of songs inspired by the Pole Party. Tickets, priced £5 (£3.50 concessions) are available on request by contacting The book is also available from the Polar Museum shop and costs £10.

Naomi Boneham, Archives Manager at SPRI said, "The men wrote in the hope that one day their loved ones and friends would get to read their words. These are some of the most poignant letters ever to be written from the polar regions and I am delighted we can now bring them together for a wider audience to appreciate."

Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Lawrence Oates, and Petty Officer Edgar “Taff” Evans, reached the South Pole on 17 January 1912. To their dismay, they had found traces of a camp made by the rival Norwegian team, led by Roald Amundsen, the previous day.

Scott noted in his journal: “The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole. It is a terrible disappointment, and I am very sorry for my loyal companions.” At the Pole, he continued: “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”

The five men had hauled their sledges up the Beardmore Glacier and over the Polar Plateau to reach the Pole. After taking careful measurements and photographing themselves and their “poor, slighted Union Jack”, they started on the arduous journey back on 19 January. Scott noted: “I’m afraid the return journey is going to be dreadfully tiring and monotonous”.

Their progress was good at first, and they covered about 300 miles in just 19 days before starting the descent of the Beardmore Glacier. Not all was well, however. Evans, whose condition was deteriorating, was a cause of particular concern. He had fallen over on 4 February and was, Scott noted, “dull and incapable”.

A further fall on 17 February left him comatose and he died near the foot of the glacier, where his companions buried him.

The remaining four ploughed on, but as poor weather set in, frostbite, exhaustion and malnutrition took their toll. On 16 March, Oates, who had the previous day expressed the wish not to wake up, left the tent in a blizzard. He hoped that his actions – which have since become the iconic episode in a tale of determination and self-sacrifice – might give the remaining three the chance they needed.

According to Scott’s journal, Oates’ last words were: “I am just going outside and may be some time.” He also wrote: “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.”

His sacrifice was not enough. The remaining three companions struggled on a further 20 miles before making their final camp around 19 March, some 11 miles short of a depot that they had set up. Further progress was prohibited as a fierce blizzard set in. Wilson and Bowers hoped to make a dash for the depot, then return with supplies, but it was not to be.

Facing the end, the three wrote final letters to their families and friends, in the hope that these would be found and sent on.

When the search party led by Surgeon Atkinson found the tent on 12 November, 1912, the final wishes of the men were fulfilled and their letters were indeed sent home. Over the years, many of these have made their way to the Research Institute in Cambridge. Thus reunited, the edition brings them together in full for the first time, along with the texts of other letters known to survive elsewhere.

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