Preparing for Terra Nova

"The main object of this Expedition is to reach the South Pole, and to secure for The British Empire the honour of that achievement." - Robert Falcon Scott, funding appeal in 1909

Return to the south

Three years after the Discovery expedition’s return, Scott wrote to the Royal Geographical Society announcing his plans for a second Antarctic expedition.

Scott soon learned that Ernest Shackleton, a member of his first expedition, planned a similar Antarctic venture, which he embarked on in 1907. During this, Shackleton nearly made it to the Pole, but failed. The last place on Earth to be conquered was still unexplored and when Scott heard this news, he began to plan his expedition in detail.

The main goal was to reach the South Pole, but alongside this objective was an ambitious scientific programme and geographical exploration. Antarctic expeditions were enormous operations and a great deal of planning was needed. Scott sought advice from experienced polar explorers about techniques and equipment, and eminent scientists about research. From its offices in London, the Terra Nova expedition started to take shape.

An expensive venture 

An Antarctic expedition was expensive and, unlike Scott’s first, this was his private initiative and he needed to raise funds to cover the costs.

Money came from different sources, such as schools, individuals and the Royal Geographical Society, but donations varied enormously in size and many were small. Explorers could also rely on commercial sponsorship and numerous companies provided Scott’s expedition with the equipment they needed, from foods and medical stores to woolly underwear and fuel. In return, the companies could use the expedition in their advertising.

Raising funds was often slow and frustrating work, but when a considerable amount had been secured, the British government stepped in, offering to cover half the costs. Although a relief, it was not enough. Scott continued to fundraise after the journey south had begun.

Huntley & Palmers biscuit tin
Huntley & Palmers biscuit company provided the expedition with high-calorie sledging biscuits. They were an important part of the sledging diet. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Beach's blackcurrant jam
Beach & Sons gave a range of different jams including apricot, raspberry, strawberry and more than 130 kilogrammes of blackcurrant jam. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Fry's cocoa box
British chocolate company J S Fry & Sons donated different types of chocolate and cocoa which made up an important and popular part of the sledging diet. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Tate cube sugar
Henry Tate & Sons supplied the expedition with nearly 2,300 kilogrammes of sugar. It was in perfect condition even after three years as Edward Evans, Scott's second-in-command, later recalled. Sugar was part of the sledging diet as it was a high energy source. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Lyle's golden syrup tin
Antarctic expeditions not only packed survival foods, they also took everyday foods for when they were not sledging. Scott's trip took 450 kilogrammes of golden syrup, given to the expedition by Abram Lyle & Sons, Ltd. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Osman's dog collar
This collar belonged to one of the expedition's lead dogs Osman, who Scott thought was the best of all the sledging dogs. He had been purchased with a donation by a school in Yorkshire, the Richmond School. Osman survived the expedition and lived out his remaining years in New Zealand. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Recruiting a team

Scott needed a large team to go south with him. He appointed his trusted friend from his first expedition, Edward Wilson, as the chief of scientific staff and Edward Evans, also with Antarctic experience, became his second-in-command.

Together they recruited the rest of the expedition members. They had no problem finding keen applicants tempted by an Antarctic adventure and thousands applied. Among those selected were several from Scott’s first expedition. Wilson joined with Scott in hiring the scientists.

An Antarctic expedition was a great opportunity to carry out groundbreaking research and several scientists expressed an interest. Others were encouraged to join on recommendation, such as the expedition’s experienced meteorologist, George Simpson.

"I have arranged for a scientific staff larger than that which has been carried by any previous expeditions." - Robert Falcon Scott, expedition plans published in The Geographical Journal 1910
Edward Wilson

Edward Wilson
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Planning the work ahead

Reaching the South Pole required detailed planning. In 1909, Shackleton had come closer to the South Pole than anyone before and Scott studied his journey to learn from his experience.

He planned to travel the same route using a combination of ponies, dog teams and new motorised sledges to carry their food, fuel and equipment. For the last stage of the journey, the men would pull their sledge loads.

To make a real contribution to the growing knowledge about Antarctica, the scientific work also needed to be carefully planned, and leading experts and the expedition scientists contributed. They would study geology and glaciology, record meteorological and magnetic observations, and investigate wildlife on land and in the sea.

Motorised sledges in France

Scott testing the expedition’s motorised sledges at Lautaret Pass in the French Alps
© Rouillon & Bignon, France

Supplies for years in Antarctica

Antarctica offers little to support humans and Scott’s expedition would have to bring everything it needed to live and work there for three years.

For safe living quarters in the winter, they took a wooden hut. To travel across the vast frozen landscapes and to carry their stores, they brought skis and sledges, which 19 ponies and 33 dogs would help to pull. They took clothes, tents and sleeping bags suitable for the freezing conditions, and stoves, matches and fuel for heating and cooking. They acquired enormous quantities of food, medical stores and instruments for navigation, surveying and meteorological observations.

To cope with life away from home they also brought items to entertain – books, board games and musical instruments. The expedition’s ship – Terra Nova – was crammed full when she departed.

Pemmican was a common survival food for explorers. It contained powdered meat, large quantities of fat and sometimes dried fruits. Scott's expedition brought 1,600 kilogrammes of pemmican to the Antarctic. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Side of Bovril sledging rations crate
The salty meat extract Bovril was used to flavour the hoosh - a thick stew made from pemmican. It was also used to make beef tea. The Bovril containers were packed into Venesta crates made from plywood and bound with iron, which were very light and durable. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Books for the library
The base camp hut had an extensive library with a wide variety of books. Some were scientific publications to help plan the expedition's work. Others were novels and other works read for entertainment. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Charles Wright's Primus stove
Primus stoves were light, small, quick to set up and reliable, and were taken on all sledge journeys. This one, owned by physicist Charles Wright, was used on a journey from Cape Evans to explore the region between the Dry Valleys and the Koettlitz Glacier. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Belmont stearine candles
During the early twentieth century, acetylene gas was often used for illumination. At Cape Evans the acetylene plant provided light throughout the hut. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Ice axe
Forty-eight ice axes and six spare handles were taken on the expedition and they were essential tools for work and travel. Among other tasks, they were used to cut steps into steep ice covered slopes to make ascent or descent easier. This ice axe is said to have belonged to Scott. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Matches in box
Matches were sealed in metal boxes to keep them dry on sledging journeys or while stored at depots. The striking plate was inside the tin. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Man-hauling harness
Man-hauling was a common method of transport on British polar expeditions at the time. It involved pulling the sledges manually. Harnesses, such as this one used on Scott's expedition, were worn by the men and attached to the sledge. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Demetri Gerof's dog whip
Siberian dog handler Demetri Gerof was experienced in driving dog teams having used them on postal sledge routes in Russia. Whips were used to communicate with the dogs when in harness, the cracking sound signalling it was time to pull. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Demetri Gerof's skis and poles
These skis were used by dog handler Demetri Gerof. If surface conditions were suitable, skis were an efficient way to move quickly across ice-covered landscapes. Scott had recruited Norwegian ski expert Tryggve Gran to train the men. Gran also looked after the skis. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Sleeping bag
A sleeping bag was a vital piece of equipment in any polar explorer's kit and reindeer fur was a favoured material. But the bags had problems. They became moist from the men's breath and froze solid when empty. It was an ordeal to force oneself into the frozen bag at bedtime. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust

Goggles were for avoiding snow blindness - a burn on the cornea caused by overexposure of sunlight. Each shore member was issued a standard pair with coloured glass lenses, but some brought their own, such as goggles with aluminium eyepieces. These ones have slits in them. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Set of pony snow shoes
Scott's ponies struggled with pulling the sledges in the deep snow. These pony snow shoes made it much easier, but due to a lack of planning they were not widely used by Scott's expedition. © New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust