This is the story of a very gallant gentleman. Nobody knows exactly where he died, nor has his body ever been found. “I am just going outside and may be some time” are claimed to be the last words of the Antarctic explorer Captain Lawrence Edward Grace “Titus” Oates (1880–1912). He uttered them before walking alone into a blizzard, knowing he faced certain death.
Caption: Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates during the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1913, ca 1911, Reference Number: PA1-f-067-069-1, Silver gelatin print, Photographic Archive, Alexander Turnbull Library
Attribution: Herbert Ponting, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lawrence_Oates_c1911.jpg
Oates took part in the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913) led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. This expedition aimed to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole. He was nicknamed “Titus” by his fellow expedition members during the Terra Nova Expedition. The origin of this nickname can be traced back to Oates’ resemblance to a character in William Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus.” The play’s character, “Young Lucius,” was portrayed as a loyal and steadfast individual. Oates’ comrades considered him to embody similar qualities of loyalty, determination, and strength of character. Therefore, they affectionately nicknamed him “Titus” as a tribute to his admirable traits. The nickname became widely used within the expedition team and has since been associated with Lawrence Oates.
Lawrence Oates applied to be part of Scott’s next expedition to Antarctica. He was quickly accepted because of his excellent military reputation, experience, skill with horses and dogs and a donation of £1,500 (although there are reports the amount was £1,000) he made towards the expedition. However, the acceptance caught him off guard, and he hurriedly wrote a rather apologetic letter to his mother back home.
The Personal Life of Captain Oates
Lawrence Oates was born in Putney, Surrey, in 1880, the elder son of William Edward Oates, FRGS, and Caroline Annie, daughter of Joshua Buckton, of West Lea, Meanwood, Leeds. The Oates family were wealthy landed gentry, having owned land since the 16th century.
He was one of the first pupils to attend the nearby Willington School. He went on to Eton but left after less than two years owing to ill health.
In 1898, Oates was commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. He saw active service during the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, having been transferred to that cavalry regiment as a second lieutenant. In March 1901, a gunshot wound shattered his left thigh bone, leaving it an inch shorter than the right. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1902 and to captain in 1906.
The Expedition to the South Pole
Nicknamed “the soldier”, perhaps derogatorily, by his fellow expedition members, his role was to look after the 19 ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole. Belgrave Edward Sutton Ninnis, a fellow polar explorer who accompanied Douglas Mawson on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, described Oates in his diary as “distinguished, simple-minded.” Ninnis also expressed concern that Oates was the wrong man for the job.
From the outset, Oates was initially not a popular member on board the Terra Nova. Oates also clashed with Scott many times on issues of management of the expedition.
A 2002 article in the Guardian newspaper relates a biography of Laurence Oates by the respected author Michael Smith. It says: “He (Lawrence Oates) died an unmarried virgin at 32, according to biographies. But a biography … cites evidence that 12 years earlier, as a young army officer, he fathered a daughter in a brief liaison with a girl who was less than 12 years old. The book says the girl, Ettie McKendrick, daughter of a Paisley master builder, was taken by her parents to Ireland to give birth in secret to the baby named Kit. To avoid family disgrace, Kit was put into a special home in Surrey for children born out of wedlock.”
The Terra Nova Expedition
The Terra Nova Expedition was organised and led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, a British naval officer and explorer. The idea for the expedition was initially proposed by Scott as an attempt to be the first to reach the geographic South Pole. The main objectives of the expedition were scientific research, geographical exploration, and the race to the South Pole.
The expedition began in June 1910 when the Terra Nova ship departed from Cardiff, Wales. It arrived in Antarctica in January 1911. The team established their base camp at Cape Evans on Ross Island.
The expedition initially used a combination of ponies and dogs to assist with transportation and sledging. However, due to the challenging conditions and diminishing food supplies, the ponies became weaker and slower, forcing the team to abandon them along the journey. The dogs were primarily used for sledge hauling and were eventually shot when they were no longer needed, as the remaining team members continued their journey towards the South Pole.
The journey to the South Pole was challenging and involved arduous travel across the Antarctic terrain. Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates, and Edgar Evans reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912, only to discover that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen had already reached it a month earlier. Disappointed, the team started their return journey.
The expedition ultimately failed in its aim to reach the South Pole and return safely. Harsh weather conditions, limited food supplies, and physical exhaustion took a toll on the team. Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates, and Evans perished during their return journey.
Various factors have been identified as contributors to the failure of the expedition. These include inadequate planning and preparation, the harsh Antarctic conditions, reliance on flawed equipment (such as the use of ponies and motor sledges), the condition of the ponies, the team’s deteriorating physical condition, and the strategic decisions made by Scott.
Efforts to find Lawrence Oates were not made since his companions knew he had sacrificed himself for their survival. His act of bravery and self-sacrifice was recognised and respected by the remaining members of the team.
After the deaths of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, and Oates, their bodies were discovered by a search party in November 1912. Their final camp, known as the “Tent Camp,” contained their bodies, personal belongings, scientific records, and journals. The bodies and artefacts were buried under a cairn of snow.
In subsequent years, various expeditions were conducted to locate the bodies and retrieve the records left behind by the team. In 1913, a search party found the tent and recovered the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers. Their remains were later interred in a specially built mausoleum at Cape Evans.
Overall, the Terra Nova Expedition remains a significant event in the history of polar exploration. It is remembered for the bravery and sacrifice of its members, as well as the lessons learned about planning, preparation, and the harsh realities of polar exploration.
The Start of the Terra Nova Expedition
Before joining the Terra Nova Expedition, Oates served as a British army officer, specifically in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. His military background gave him discipline, endurance, and leadership skills, but he did not have previous experience as an explorer.
The team set sail from Cardiff, Wales, in June 1910 and arrived in Antarctica in January 1911. Scott, Oates and 14 other expedition members set off from their Cape Evans base camp for the South Pole on 1st November 1911.
Caption: “Captain Robert F. Scott’s party ‘at the south pole’, 1911 (exbt-iceberg-46)” by Fæ is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
At various pre-determined latitude points during the 895-mile (1,440 km) journey, the support members of the expedition were sent back by Scott in teams until on 4th January 1912, only the five-man polar party of Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, Edgar Evans and Oates remained to walk the last 167 miles (269 km) to the Pole.
On 17th January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, they finally reached the Pole only to discover to their complete disappointment, that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had beaten them in the race to be first to the Pole. Amundsen had left a tent with a note inside, informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14th December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.
Attempting to Return Home
Disappointed, Scott et al. started their journey back to the base camp, but the return journey became increasingly difficult due to harsh weather conditions and limited food supplies.
Unfortunately, their situation deteriorated further as they faced extreme cold, physical exhaustion, increasingly challenging conditions, and various setbacks. Edgar Evans, one of the party’s members, was the first to experience severe physical deterioration. He suffered from frostbite and a head injury from a fall during the return journey. His condition gradually worsened and could not continue the strenuous march. Evans’ health continued to decline, and on 17th February 1912, he died. His death left the remaining four members of the party to continue their journey.
After Evans’ passing, the party consisted of Robert Falcon Scott, Edward A. Wilson, Henry R. Bowers, and Lawrence Oates. However, their situation continued its spiralling deterioration. Severe weather conditions, fatigue, and dwindling food supplies took their toll on the team’s physical strength and endurance. By then, Lawrence Oates was suffering from frostbite and a debilitating leg injury.
Oates, suffering from severe frostbite and a leg injury, realised he was slowing down his team’s progress and believed his condition was endangering their survival. On 17th March 1912, he made the selfless decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of his comrades.
In a remarkable act of bravery and selflessness, Oates left the tent and walked into a blizzard. His sacrifice allowed the remaining members of the team to have a better chance of survival. Tragically, however, none of the team members made it back alive. Scott, Wilson, Bowers, and Evans all perished in the Antarctic while trying to return to their base camp. Lawrence Oates’ act of self-sacrifice and his famous last words have become iconic and a testament to the spirit of exploration and endurance. His bravery in the face of adversity has been widely celebrated, and he is remembered as a hero of Antarctic exploration.
Caption: A Very Gallant Gentleman, John Charles Dollman (1913).
Attribution: John Charles Dollman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_Very_Gallant_Gentleman_(Gallimard_version)_-_John_Charles_Dollman_-_1913.png
The painting of Oates walking out to his death, A Very Gallant Gentleman, by John Charles Dollman, hangs in the Cavalry Club in London. It was commissioned by officers of the Inniskilling Dragoons in 1913. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1914. A preparatory sketch is in the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, having been sold by Christie’s, on behalf of a private owner, for £40,000 in 2014.
According to the diaries and journals left behind by his companions who also died, including Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, and Henry Bowers, Oates decided to leave the tent due to his deteriorating physical condition and the belief that he was impeding the team’s progress. They noted that he uttered the memorable words before stepping out into the blizzard. His companions understood the gravity of his sacrifice, recognising that he intended to sacrifice himself for their survival.
As all five members of the final Terra Nova Expedition team perished and there were no direct witnesses to Oates’ final moments, the accounts left behind by his comrades provide the primary source of information regarding his actions and his last words. These accounts, combined with the overall narrative of the expedition and the respect and admiration Oates garnered for his selfless act, have contributed to the enduring legacy of his final words.
The possibility of foul play causing the death of Oates at the South Pole does not appear to have been suggested. The extant records of Scott et al. support the belief that Oates, suffering from a war wound and terrible frostbite, heroically committed suicide by walking into the frozen unknown rather than burdening his colleagues with the task of caring for him on what was already a difficult journey. The records are hearsay, written by Oates’ colleagues but unsupported since they all died shortly after Oates’ demise.
But, there is alternative evidence: Throughout the expedition, it became evident that both Oates and Scott strongly disliked each other. Oates wrote in his diary, “Myself, I dislike Scott intensely and would chuck the whole thing if it were not that we are a British expedition. He is not straight, it is himself first, the rest nowhere…”.
Scott, somewhat more even-tempered, wrote in return: “The Soldier [Oates] takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him”.
Is there a case to answer?
Caption: Oates’s primary task on the expedition was to attend to its horses.
Attribution: Herbert Ponting, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lawrence_Oates_photo.jpg
The extant records indicate a strained relationship between Oates and Scott during the expedition to the South Pole, although that does not necessarily provide evidence of foul play or support the belief that Oates’ death was the result of murder. Disliking each other and having conflicts within a team, especially under extreme conditions, is not uncommon and does not automatically imply criminal intent.
The primary sources and historical records available regarding Oates’ death suggest that he heroically sacrificed himself for the sake of the remaining team members.
Oates, suffering from a war wound and frostbite, was significantly hampered by his inability to continue. Recognising his condition was slowing down the entire party and endangering their chances of survival, Oates decided to leave the tent and face certain death to give his comrades a better chance of survival.
While the personal animosity between Oates and Scott may have added to the overall tensions within the expedition, including the disappointment of being beaten to the South Pole, it does not necessarily imply that Scott or any other team member orchestrated foul play leading to Oates’ death. The available evidence, including Oates’ own diary entries, supports the heroic act of self-sacrifice rather than foul play.
While personal conflicts and strained relationships can add complexity to historical events, relying on substantial evidence to support any claims of foul play or alternative explanations is essential.
The Terra Nova Ship
The Terra Nova was a wooden three-masted barque, originally built as a whaling ship in 1884 by the Alexander Stephen and Sons shipyard in Dundee, Scotland. It was constructed for the Dundee whaling fleet under the name “SS Terra Nova.” The ship was later purchased and adapted for polar exploration by the British Antarctic Expedition, led by Scott.
The ship was owned by the shipping company Bowring Brothers of Liverpool, England, who leased it to Scott for the expedition. Adapting and refitting the ship for Antarctic exploration cost around £12,500.
The Terra Nova was approximately 57 metres (187 feet) long, had a beam of around 10 metres (34 feet), and a draught of about 6 metres (20 feet). The ship had a displacement of about 764 tons. It was equipped with a reinforced bow to withstand the pressures of navigating through the ice. The Terra Nova had a coal-fired auxiliary steam engine that provided additional propulsion when conditions were favourable.
The Terra Nova’s steam engine generated a maximum speed of 6 to 7 knots (about 11-13 kilometres per hour). However, the ship primarily relied on wind power and sails for propulsion during its voyages to and from Antarctica.
After Scott and his companions perished during their return journey from the South Pole, the Terra Nova returned to New Zealand without them. In subsequent years, the ship was used for various purposes, including sealing and as a supply vessel for other expeditions. However, the Terra Nova suffered damage and underwent several ownership changes over the years.
Eventually, in 1916, while on a sealing expedition in the waters off Greenland, the ship became trapped in ice and sank. The exact location of the shipwreck has remained unknown.
The Terra Nova holds historical significance as the vessel that carried Scott and his team on their ill-fated Antarctic expedition. It played a pivotal role in their journey and remains an iconic symbol of polar exploration.
How was the Expedition Financed
The Terra Nova Expedition was financed through a combination of private and public funding. Scott played a crucial role in securing financial support for the expedition. Here are some of the key sources of financing:
- British Government: The British government provided financial support to the Terra Nova Expedition. The expedition was seen as an opportunity to advance scientific knowledge and explore uncharted territories, aligning with the government’s interest in scientific research and geographical exploration.
- Fundraising Campaign: Scott actively sought private donations to fund the expedition. He approached various individuals, including philanthropists, businesspeople, and influential figures, to secure financial contributions. Scott’s reputation as an experienced explorer and the significance of the expedition’s goals helped attract private donors.
- Sponsorships and Corporate Support: Several corporate entities and businesses sponsored the expedition in exchange for visibility and publicity. Companies such as the Daily Mail newspaper and the British clothing manufacturer Burberry provided financial support and equipment.
- Scientific Organisations: Scientific institutions, such as the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society, also provided financial assistance to the Terra Nova Expedition. They recognised the scientific value of the expedition and its potential contributions to various fields of study.
To drum up support and secure funding for the Terra Nova Expedition, Captain Scott employed various strategies to engage potential donors and sponsors. Some of the approaches he took were:
- Public Lectures: Scott delivered public lectures to share his previous experiences as an explorer and generate interest in the upcoming expedition. These lectures served as a platform to showcase the scientific objectives, the spirit of adventure, and the importance of Antarctic exploration. The lectures helped raise awareness and attract attention to the expedition, potentially garnering financial support.
- Fundraising Dinners and Events: Scott organised fundraising dinners and events where he presented the goals and significance of the Terra Nova Expedition. These gatherings provided opportunities to connect with influential individuals, philanthropists, and potential sponsors who could contribute financially to the expedition. Scott used these occasions to passionately convey the importance of the scientific and exploratory aspects of the expedition.
- Newspaper Articles and Media Coverage: Scott and his team sought media coverage to increase public awareness and support for the expedition. They provided interviews, wrote articles, and engaged with newspapers and magazines to generate interest in their expedition to the South Pole. The media coverage helped disseminate information about the expedition’s goals, challenges, and funding needs to a wider audience.
- Private Solicitations: Scott personally approached wealthy individuals, prominent figures, and potential sponsors to request their financial support. He leveraged his connections and reputation to engage influential individuals interested in exploration, science, or advancing human knowledge. These one-on-one solicitations aimed to secure substantial contributions from private donors.
- Government Advocacy: Scott actively sought government funding for the expedition. He presented proposals and reports to government officials, highlighting the scientific, geographic, and national importance of the expedition. Through his advocacy efforts, he aimed to secure financial support from the British government, which ultimately became one of the funding sources for the expedition.
It has been suggested that Oates sold his commission in the British Army before his involvement with Scott, raising funds he personally invested in the expedition. His financial contribution (£1,500) was a significant personal investment supporting the venture. However, although the sale of Oates’ commission is widely reported as having taken place, the reality is that he would not or should not have been able to sell his commission as a means of financing the expedition. The practice of selling commissions in the British Army was abolished by the Regulation of the Forces Acton on 1st November 1871 as part of the Cardwell Reforms.
Before that date, it was common for officers to purchase their commissions as a means of advancement and to finance their military careers. However, after the abolition of the sale of commissions, officers were promoted based on merit and seniority rather than their ability to purchase higher ranks.
Using public lectures, fundraising events, media coverage, personal solicitations, and government advocacy, Scott employed a multifaceted approach to generate financial support for the Terra Nova Expedition. These strategies helped him engage potential donors and sponsors, conveying the significance of the expedition’s goals and securing the necessary funds to undertake the ambitious Antarctic endeavour.
Antarctica, the South Pole and the cold
Antarctica, the last unexplored continent by the early 20th century, is the home of the desolate and frozen expanse of the South Pole. Before Scott’s Antarctic expedition in 1910, only sealers and whalers had ventured upon this vast southern land. Scott’s ambitious goal was to become the first man to reach the South Pole, embarking on the longest continuous sledge journey in the polar regions—a gruelling 2964 km (1842 mile) trek. Sadly Scott failed in this ambition, beaten by 35 days by a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen.
The South Pole stands as the southernmost point on Earth, situated on the vast continent of Antarctica. It marks one of the two points where the Earth’s axis of rotation intersects the surface. Antarctica is an immense landmass, dwarfing the United Kingdom by about 50 times in size. Over 99% of Antarctica is blanketed by a thick layer of ice, with some areas reaching depths of more than three miles. The frigid climate of the South Pole is unforgiving, with temperatures plunging to extreme lows, frequently dropping below -50 degrees Celsius (-58 degrees Fahrenheit). The barren landscape and bone-chilling cold make Antarctica one of the harshest and most inhospitable environments on the planet. The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was recorded in Antarctica (-129.3ºF). The average winter temperatures range from -40º to -94ºF. Winds are commonly measured at up to 200 miles per hour.
Amundsen’s route to the South Pole compared to Scott’s
The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen led the first-ever expedition to reach the Geographic South Pole. He and four others in the Norwegian team arrived at the pole on 14th December 1911, five weeks ahead of a British party led by Robert Falcon Scott as part of the Terra Nova Expedition. Amundsen and his team returned safely to their base and later heard that Scott and his four companions had perished on their return journey. Between December 1911 and January 1912, both Roald Amundsen (leading his South Pole expedition) and Robert Falcon Scott (leading the Terra Nova Expedition) reached the South Pole. But while Scott and his four companions died on the return journey, Amundsen’s party managed to reach the geographic South Pole first and subsequently return to their base camp at Framheim without loss of human life, suggesting that they were better prepared for the expedition. The contrasting fates of the two teams seeking the same prize at the same time makes for interesting reading.
Outcomes of the two expeditions
- First to the South Pole: Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole by five weeks.
- Fatalities: Scott lost five men, including himself, while returning from the pole out of a team of 65. Amundsen’s entire team of 19 returned to Norway safely.
Some authors (including Huntford and Fiennes) associate up to two further deaths (the drowning of Robert Brissenden and the suicide of Hjalmar Johansen) with the two expeditions, but these happened outside the Antarctic Circle.
Historically, several factors have been considered, including:
- Priority at the pole: Scott wrote that Amundsen’s dogs seriously threatened his polar aspirations because dogs, being more cold-tolerant than ponies, would be able to start earlier in the season than Scott’s mixed transport of dogs, ponies, and motors.
- Cherry-Garrard, in The Worst Journey in the World, agreed but added that in his experience, dogs would not have been able to ascend the Beardmore Glacier.
- On the causes of the deaths of Scott and his companions, Cherry-Garrard devotes chapter 19 in his book to examining the causes. Among several other factors, he surmised that the rations of Scott’s team were inadequate and did not provide enough energy for the men.
- Much of Scott’s hauling was to be done by ponies, which are ill-suited to work on snow and ice without snowshoes. Their relatively small hooves and large weight caused them to sink into anything other than very firm snow or ice. Oates was opposed to snowshoes and had left most of them at base camp.
Caption: The routes to the South Pole taken by Scott (green) and Amundsen (red), 1911–1912.
Attribution: Soerfm, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antarctic_expedition_map_(Amundsen_-_Scott)-en-crop.png
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Ponies’ coats easily became soaked with perspiration during exertion, thus necessitating constant attention with blankets to avoid hypothermia through evaporation. In contrast, dogs do not have sweat glands—they cool themselves via panting, making them less vulnerable to the cold. With ponies, Scott acknowledged he could not depart until 1st November 1911, when the weather would be warmer, leaving him less time to complete the journey.
- The loss of ponies, several of which had drowned on disintegrating sea ice, limited the supplies that could be hauled to the depots. Of 19 ponies brought south to aid in laying depots on the Ross Ice Shelf (traversed during the first and final quarters of the trek), nine were lost before the journey even began. Further, unlike dogs which could eat the abundant seal and penguin meat found in Antarctica, the ponies’ food had to be carried forward from the ship, vastly increasing the stores that had to be transported as Scott’s expedition moved towards the pole.
- Had the one-ton depot been placed at latitude 80° S., as planned, Scott and his two surviving companions could have reached it on their return march. Instead, because Scott refused to drive the ponies to their deaths, despite Oates’ urgent advice to do so, the depot was placed some 50 kilometres (31 mi) short of there. Scott’s party died 18 km (11 mi) south of the depot.
- The last-minute addition of Lieutenant Henry R. Bowers to the planned four-man pole party may have strained the rationing plan, although the death of Petty Officer Evans weeks later reduced the party to four again.
- The rations were deficient in B and C vitamins. The party became weaker a few weeks after reaching the pole, despite Scott’s racing ambitions before the return march, writing, “Now for a desperate struggle to get the news through first [before Amundsen reaches the cable head in Australia]. I wonder if we can do it.”
- The tins of cooking fuel cached along the return route were found to be partly empty, which forced the men to eat frozen food. Shortage of fuel to melt water likely caused the men to become dehydrated. Apparently, the sun’s heat had vaporised part of the fuel, enabling it to escape past the cork stoppers. Amundsen knew about this “creep” and had had the fuel tins soldered shut on the voyage to Antarctica, see below.
- The weather on the return march seems to have been unusually bad. In particular, when the party reached the Great Ice Barrier, the temperature was much lower than expected for the season, making the surface much less suitable for the sledge runners. Furthermore, the tailwind they had hoped to aid them home did not materialise. Scott wrote, in his final “Message to the Public”: “…our wreck is certainly due to this sudden advent of severe weather….”
- The complexity of the transportation plan made it vulnerable. It depended partly on motor sledges, ponies, dogs, and southerly winds to assist the sledges (which were fitted with sails). Half the distance was intended to be covered by man-hauling (and sails whenever conditions permitted). Scott’s daily marches were limited to the endurance of the slowest team, the man-haulers who were instructed to advance 15 miles a day. The ponies marched by night and rested when the sun was warmer, Meares remained idle in camp with the much faster dogs for many hours before catching up at the end of the day.
Sullivan states that it was the last factor that probably was decisive.  He states:
‘Man is a poor beast of burden, as was shown in the terrible experience of Scott, Shackleton, and Wilson in their thrust to the south of 1902–3. However, Scott relied chiefly on man-hauling in 1911–12 because ponies could not ascend the glacier midway to the Pole. The Norwegians correctly guessed that dog teams could go all the way. Furthermore, they used a simple plan based on their native skill with skis and on dog-driving methods that were tried and true.’
Caption: Terra Nova’s sled dogs.
Attribution: Herbert Ponting (survived the expedition and died in 1935), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sled_dogs_-_Terra_Nova_Expedition.jpg
Locating Lawrence Oates’ Body
It is important to note that his remains have never been specifically searched for or recovered. Given the circumstances and the harsh environment of Antarctica, it is unlikely that his body will ever be found.
In contrast, the discovery of Ernest Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, resulted from specific search efforts. After nearly 107 years since it sank, the wreck of Endurance was located in 2022 by the Weddell Sea Expedition using modern technology and dedicated search efforts.
While there have been no targeted expeditions to locate Oates’ remains, it is worth mentioning that subsequent Antarctic expeditions and scientific research conducted in the region have occasionally come across remnants or artefacts related to the Terra Nova Expedition. These findings, such as equipment, food tins, or personal belongings, serve as reminders of the expedition’s presence but do not help in determining the location of Oates’ body.
Caption: Monument to Oates, close to Holy Trinity Church, Meanwood, Leeds.
Attribution: Chemical Engineer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:OatesSignMeanwood.jpg
Review and Concluding Words
The story of Oates and the Terra Nova Expedition is a tale of bravery, sacrifice, and the pursuit of exploration. This paper has examined various aspects of Oates’ life, his role in the expedition, the financing of the venture, and the challenging Antarctic environment. While some speculations regarding Oates’ relationship with Scott and the possibility of foul play have been presented, the available evidence suggests a different narrative.
Oates’ personal life and military career gave him the discipline, endurance, and leadership skills necessary for the arduous journey to the South Pole. His selection as part of the final five-man party demonstrated the trust and respect his comrades had for him, despite initial conflicts and tensions. The expedition faced numerous obstacles, including adverse weather conditions, limited food supplies, and the disappointment of being beaten to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen’s team.
The decision made by Lawrence Oates to sacrifice himself for the survival of his teammates stands as a testament to his courage and selflessness. Although the exact circumstances of his final moments remain unknown, the accounts left behind by his comrades support the belief that Oates heroically walked into a blizzard, fully aware of the certain death that awaited him. This act of sacrifice has immortalised him as a symbol of endurance and loyalty.
The Terra Nova Expedition faced multiple challenges that contributed to its ultimate failure. Inadequate planning and preparation, reliance on flawed equipment, such as the use of ponies and motor sledges, and the team’s deteriorating physical condition were among the factors identified. The contrasting outcomes of Amundsen’s successful journey and Scott’s tragic end highlight the importance of effective strategies, adaptability, and a comprehensive understanding of the harsh Antarctic environment.
The financing of the Terra Nova Expedition relied on a combination of private and public funding. Scott’s efforts in securing financial support through public lectures, fundraising events, media coverage, and government advocacy played a significant role. Private donations, corporate sponsorships, and contributions from scientific institutions further supported the expedition’s scientific research and geographical exploration objectives.
My paper has also explored the challenging Antarctic environment and the frigid conditions encountered at the South Pole. With temperatures plummeting below -50 degrees Celsius, bone-chilling winds, and vast ice-covered expanses, Antarctica remains one of the harshest and most inhospitable regions on Earth. The contrasting experiences of Amundsen’s team and Scott’s party highlight the importance of proper planning, equipment, and survival strategies in such extreme environments.
The legacy of Lawrence Oates and the Terra Nova Expedition lives on, commemorating the explorers’ bravery and the enduring spirit of human exploration. The stories and lessons derived from their experiences continue to shape our understanding of polar exploration and serve as a reminder of the challenges and triumphs that await those who dare to venture into the unknown.
Sources and Further Reading
- Captain Oates: Soldier and Explorer, by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingly 2009, published by Pen & Sword Military Books, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Captain-Oates-Sword-Military-Books/dp/1848840888
- I Am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates, Antarctic Tragedy, by Michael Smith 2008, published by The History Press Limited, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Am-Just-Going-Outside-Antarctic/dp/1862273553
- Captain Oates’ Left Sock (Acting Edition), by John Antrobus 1 Nov 1974, published by Samuel French Limited, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Captain-Oates-Left-Sock-Acting/dp/0573017018
- Scott’s Last Expedition (Two Volumes) being The Journals Of Captain Scott in Vol 1 and Vol 2 being The Reports & The Scientific Work Undertaken by Dr E.A. Wilson and the Surviving Members Of The Expedition, Arranged by Leonard Huxley, by Robert F Scott 1913, published by Smith, Elder & Co, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expedition-Journals-Scientific-Undertaken-Surviving/dp/B003GDKP1W
- A First Rate Tragedy, by Diana Preston, published by Constable, at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/First-Rate-Tragedy-Diana-Preston/dp/1849017247
- The Last Place on Earth, by Roland Huntford 2000, published by Abacus, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scott-Amundsen-Last-Place-Earth/dp/0349113955
- The White Darkness, Hardcover, by Geraldine McCaughrean (Author), published by OUP Oxford 1 Sept. 2005, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Darkness-Geraldine-McCaughrean/dp/0192719831/
- Was Scott of the Antarctic scuppered by a surviving team member, at: https://youtu.be/Q_nOzJHDdhc
- Lawrence Oates: Antarctic Hero, at: https://youtu.be/jX8ycGpRMtE
- Edge of Silence, at: https://youtu.be/rjakepQnWpw
- The deadly race to the South Pole, at: https://youtu.be/hpcZmuz2LGY
- An Empire of Ice – Scott, Shackleton, and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science, Paperback – Illustrated, 1 Jan. 2013, by Edward J. Larson, published by Yale University Press, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Empire-Ice-Shackleton-Antarctic-Science/dp/0300188218/
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Source: Source: https://gilbertwhiteshouse.org.uk/10-facts-about-lawrence-oates/ ↑
- Sourced mainly from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: Scott, Robert F (2008). Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition. Oxford University Press. pp. 303, 125. ISBN 9780199536801. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: Ninnis, B.E.S. (2014). Mornement, Allan; Riffenburgh, Beau (eds.). Mertz & I…The Antarctic Diary of Belgrave Edward Sutton Ninnis. Eccles, Norwich, England, U.K.: The Erskine Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-1-85297-116-8. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- At: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2002/oct/14/books.artsandhumanities and also: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/2326097.stm ↑
- Explanation: Cape Evans is a prominent geographical feature located on Ross Island, Antarctica. It is situated on the western side of the island, facing the Ross Sea. The cape was originally named by Captain James Clark Ross during his Antarctic expedition in the early 1840s, after his second-in-command, Lieutenant Edward Evans. During the Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), Cape Evans served as the main base camp for Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team. The purpose of establishing the base camp was to provide a central location for the expedition’s operations, scientific research, and preparations for the journey to the South Pole. Cape Evans was chosen as the base camp due to its strategic location. It offered proximity to the Ross Ice Shelf, which facilitated access to the continent’s interior. The site also provided a natural harbour, which was important for mooring ships and facilitating the transport of supplies and equipment. At Cape Evans, the expedition members built various structures to support their activities, including living quarters, scientific laboratories, stables for the ponies, and storage facilities. The main building, known as the “Terra Nova Hut,” served as the primary living and working space for the team. It was constructed using timber and prefabricated materials, designed to withstand the harsh Antarctic conditions. The base camp at Cape Evans functioned as the hub for scientific research, meteorological observations, and the preparation and training for the journey to the South Pole. It was from this location that the members of the Terra Nova Expedition set out on their fateful journey to the South Pole and ultimately returned. Today, Cape Evans and the remaining structures from the Terra Nova Expedition, including the historic Terra Nova Hut, hold significant historical and cultural value. They serve as important landmarks and reminders of the pioneering era of Antarctic exploration and the enduring legacy of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition. Source: Research by Martin Pollins. ↑
- Source: https://antarctic-logistics.com/ ↑
- Sources:  Jones, Max (2004). The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Sacrifice. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-162233-5, and  Glinga, Werner (1986). Legacy of Empire: A Journey Through British Society. Manchester University Press. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-7190-2272-2.Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: Jones, Max (2004). The Last Great Quest: Captain Scott’s Antarctic Sacrifice. OUP Oxford. ISBN 978-0-19-162233-5.Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: The Boy’s Own Annual 36th Annual Volume. 1913–1914. p. Plate opposite page 41, part 11.Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: “A Very Gallant Gentleman”. Art UK. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Source: “John Charles Dollman (1851-1934), ‘A Very Gallant Gentleman’ (Captain L.E.G. Oates walking out to his death in the blizzard, on Captain Scott’s return journey from the South Pole, March 1912)”. Christie’s. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Oates ↑
- Explanation: In the British Army, officers held a commission, which represented their rank and authority. When an officer decided to leave the military or retire, they had the option to sell their commission. By selling the commission, the officer would receive money from a buyer who desired to acquire that rank and position within the military without having to go through the usual progression and training. That system ended in 1871. ↑
- Source: http://projectbritain.com/calendar/january/scott.html ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Sullivan, Walter (1962). “The South Pole Fifty Years After”. Arctic. 15 (3): 175–178. doi:10.14430/arctic3571. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Scott’s diary, 22 Feb 1911 “The proper, as well as wiser, course for us is to proceed exactly as though this had not happened. To go forward and do our best for the honour of the country without fear or panic. There is no doubt that Amundsen’s plan is a serious menace to ours. He has a shorter distance to the Pole by 60 miles— I never thought he could have got so many dogs safely to the ice. His plan for running them seems excellent. But above all he can start his journey early in the season—an impossible condition with ponies.” Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Apsley Cherry Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World, chapter 19 “The practical man of the world has plenty of criticism of the way things were done. He says dogs should have been taken [to the Polar Plateau], but he does not show how they could have been got up and down the Beardmore [Glacier].” Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Apsley Cherry-Garrard, The Worst Journey in the World – Antarctic 1910–13, Chapter XIX, page 573. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Preston, Diana (1997). A First Rate Tragedy. London: Constable & Co. pp. 218–219. ISBN 978-0-09-479530-3. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: E.G.R.G. Evans South With Scott. Collins London 1953 p184 . Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- Source: Sullivan, Walter (1962). “The South Pole Fifty Years After”. Arctic. 15 (3): 175–178. doi:10.14430/arctic3571. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_Amundsen_and_Scott_expeditions ↑
- See: https://endurance22.org/ ↑