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Scott of The Antarctic for Children

Captain Scott on his last expedition

In the twenty first century it's difficult to understand just how large the world was, barely a hundred years ago, when Captain Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen competed to be the first expedition to reach the South Pole.  This was Scott's second expedition to the White Continent, and Amundsen's first.

Scott, an officer in the Royal Navy, performed two expeditions to Antarctica, and he was among the first people to set foot on the mainland (indeed, the mainland of Antarctica hadn't even been seen until the 1820s).

Scott's early career was one of quiet service to the Crown, and with the British Empire at peace under Queen Victoria, Scott faced the plight of many junior officers: competition for promotion.  After the death of his father, Scott became the only source of income for his mother and two unmarried sisters. So he took the command of the Discovery Expedition to Antarctica at the turn of the 20th Century because it offered him a fast promotion to the rank of Commander.

The Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904 put 50 people on the Antarctic ice who, with skis and dogsleds, travelled nearly 500 miles from the South Pole - very close.  The expedition was, in many ways, the perfect amateur Victorian adventure – rather than being experts in working in cold climates, it was expected that everyone would compensate and improvise.

After the Discovery Expedition returned in 1904, Scott was a popular hero in Britain.  He was promoted to the full rank of Post Captain, which solved many of his family's financial issues, and received several awards; for two years, he gave lectures and receptions, while writing up the expedition record.  He moved in ever more important social circles, while resuming his naval career.

At the failure of the 1907 Shackleton expedition (which caused a breach between the two adventurers), Scott accepted half pay from the Navy to command the third British Antarctic Expedition, returning to the McMurdo Sound base that Discovery had pioneered, with the intent to reach the South Pole.

Unknown to him, Roald Amundsun of Norway had a two month head start, and though he travelled further, his greater experience with arctic conditions (including using skis and dog-pulled sleds, rather than just having to pull them along by hand) gave him the edge.  When Scott reached the South Pole, he discovered evidence that he'd been beaten to the finish. Harsh freezing cold conditions, lack of food and a general lack of preparation for the expedition cost Scott and his four companions their lives as they walked back to their ship.

This is an original news article © The Kids Window

One in a series of articles about British History written for children.

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