To: My Widow
The final days of British explorer Robert Falcon Scott
On this day in 1912, following years of preparation, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his four team members reached the South Pole—an incredible feat that was quickly overshadowed upon arrival by the news that the race had already been won four weeks earlier by a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen. Understandably demoralised and tired, Scott and his team soon began their 800-mile journey home. A month later, with just over half of the return journey still to go, one of the men, Edgar Evans, passed away; a month after his death, another man died. The rest soon followed.
The bodies of Scott and his men were discovered on November 12th, 1912, along with possessions that included two letters: one to Scott from his wife, Kathleen, and another in reply, written over the course of Scott’s final days.
Kathleen to Robert
My dear one,
How can I guess how things will be with you when you get this. But oh dearie I am full of hope. My brave man will win – with his own right hand and with his mighty arm hath he gathered himself the victory.
Now don’t forget to brush your hair – and don’t smoke so much and altogether you’re a ducky darling and hurray for you!
I don’t know if you’ll ever get these silly little letters, and it’s truly to tell you that I love you more than is at all comfy and moreover I think you are splendid.
I am glad and happy and I’m getting to be very healthy and fit – when you come home we’ll feel closer and closer together and the long time we’ve been apart will seem only a little hour.
My all the good gods conspire to bring my Con through his great difficulties with a glad heart and a constant hope.
Bless you dearest of men.
Robert to Kathleen
To: My widow
Dearest darling — we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through — In our short lunch hours I take advantage of a very small measure of warmth to write letters preparatory to a possible end — the first is naturally to you on whom my thoughts mostly dwell waking or sleeping — If anything happens to me I shall like you to know how much you have meant to me and that pleasant recollections are with me as I depart —
I should like you to take what comfort you can from these facts also — I shall not have suffered any pain but leave the world fresh from harness and full of good health and vigour — this is dictated already, when provisions come to an end we simply stop where we are within easy distance of another depot. Therefore you must not imagine a great tragedy — we are very anxious of course and have been for weeks but on splendid physical condition and our appetites compensate for all discomfort. The cold is biting and sometimes angering but here again the hot food which drives it forth is so wonderfully enjoyable that we would scarcely be without it.
We have gone down hill a good deal since I wrote the above. Poor Titus Oates has gone — he was in a bad state — the rest of us keep going and imagine we have a chance to get through but the cold weather doesn’t let up at all — we are now only 20 miles from a depot but we have very little food or fuel.
Well dear heart I want you to take the whole thing very sensibly as I'm sure you will – The boy will be your comfort. I had looked forward to helping you to bring him up but it is a satisfaction to feel that he is safe with you. I think both he and you ought to be specially looked after by the country for which after all we have given our lives with something of spirit which makes for example — I am writing letters on this point in the end of this book after this. Will you send them to their various destinations?
I must write a little letter for the boy if time can be found, to be read when he grows up. The inherited vice from my side of the family is indolence - above all he must guard, and you must guard him, against that. Make him a strenuous man. I had to force myself into being strenuous, as you know – had always an inclination to be idle. My father was idle and it brought much trouble.
Dearest heart you know I cherish no sentimental rubbish about re-marriage – when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again - I wasn't a very good husband, but I hope I shall be a good memory. Certainly the end is nothing for you to be ashamed of and I like to think that the boy will have a good start in parentage of which he may be proud.
Dear it is not easy to write because of the cold – 70 degrees below zero and nothing but the shelter of our tent – you know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you and oh dear me you must know that quite the worst aspect of this situation is the thought that I shall not see you again — The inevitable must be faced – you urged me to be leader of this party and I know you felt it would be dangerous – I’ve taken my place throughout, haven’t I? God bless you my own darling I shall try and write more later – I go on across the back pages.
Since writing the above we have got to within 11 miles of our depot with one hot meal and two days cold food and we should have got through but have been held for four days by a frightful storm – I think the best chance has gone we have decided not to kill ourselves but to fight it to the last for that depot but in the fighting there is a painless end so don’t worry. I have written letters on odd pages of this book – will you manage to get them sent? You see I am anxious for you and the boy’s future – make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games – they encourage it at some schools – I know you will keep him out in the open air – try and make him believe in a God, it is comforting. Oh my dear my dear what dreams I have had of his future and yet oh my girl I know you will face it stoically – your portrait and the boy’s will be found in my breast and the one in the little red Morocco case given by Lady Baxter – There is a piece of the Union flag I put up at the South Pole in my private kit bag together with Amundsen’s black flag and other trifles – give a small piece of the Union flag to the King and a small piece to Queen Alexandra and keep the rest a poor trophy for you! – What lots and lots I could tell you of this journey. How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home – what tales you would have for the boy but oh what a price to pay – to forfeit the sight of your dear dear face – Dear you will be good to the old mother. I write her a little line in this book. Also keep in with Ettie and the others – oh but you’ll put on a strong face for the world – only don’t be too proud to accept help for the boys sake – he ought to have a fine career and do something in the world. I haven’t time to write to Sir Clements – tell him I thought much of him and never regretted him putting me in command of the Discovery Discovery – Give messages of farewell to Lady Baxter and Lady Sandhurst keep friends with them for both are dear women & to also both the Reginald Smiths