Thursday, May 19, 2022
In BriefTragic Scott was told by wife: reach the South Pole or die...

Tragic Scott was told by wife: reach the South Pole or die trying

CAPTAIN’S Scott’s wife told him to reach the South Pole – or die in the attempt.

A previously unpublished letter to the explorer from his wife, Kathleen, shows she told him: “We can do without you…if there be a risk to take or leave, you will take it”.

The stern missive was found in Scott’s breast pocket after he froze to death in Antarctica in 1912 on his tragic expedition to the pole.

The letter casts Kathleen Scott, a respected sculptor from Nottinghamshire, in a harsh new light.  Previous correspondence to her husband appeared loving and warm.

The new letter is published in a book on explorers’ wives, which was launched yesterday in Dundee, where the expedition ship Discovery was built.

In the new letter she urges Scott: “Look you – when you are away South I want you to be sure that if there be a risk to take or leave, you will take it or if there is a danger for you or another man to face, it will be you who face it, just as much as before you met Doodles [their son Peter] and me.

“Because man dear we can do without you please know for sure we can.”

She added: “God knows I love you more that I thought could be possible, but I want you to realise that it wouldn’t be your physical life that would profit me and Doodles most.


“If there’s anything worth doing at the cost of your life – do it.

“We shall only be glad. Do you understand me? How awful if you don’t.”

Captain Robert Falcon Scott died on March 29, 1912, at Ross Ice Shelf in the Antarctic.

His adventurous group reached the pole, only to find that a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, had beaten them there. They were heading back when they were caught in a fierce blizzard and ran out of food supplies.

His body was found inside his tent eight months later by a search party – just 11 miles from a supply cache.

The new letter was discovered by Kari Herbert, 42, the daughter of English explorer Wally Herbert, who in 1969 became the first man to walk to the North Pole and makes up part of a new published book on Antarctic explorers.

The letter came to light as Kari was researching the stories of explorer’s wives, and interviewing the families, gaining access to private collections.

The new book is being launched today on Captain Scott’s former ship RRS Discovery, which is berthed in Dundee.

The boat was built in the city and became the first vessel to be constructed specifically for scientific research.

Kari said: “Being Wally Herbert’s daughter got me a level of access other writers may not have had. The families of other explorers were happy to open their private archives to me because they knew I wasn’t going to go a hatchet job.


“What’s fascinating is the lack of communication there was. These men were away from their wives for up to five years at a time and there was no radio, and of course, no mobile phones.

“If an explorer’s wife wanted to get a message to her husband she had to write out the same letter many times. She gave copies of the letters to the captain’s of whaling ships and hopes that somewhere in the remoteness they would reach their destination.”

Captain Scott’s wife Kathleen Bruce met the explorer after she had worked at a refugee camp in Macedonia.

Kari explained: “She was this bohemian sculptress who was best friends with Rodin, George Bernard Shaw and Isadora Duncan. She was a very fiery and spirited character. She worked at a refugee camp in Macedonia, became very ill and almost died.

“She was very tanned and wild looking and I think he was quite bewitched by her.”

Kathleen has been described as a driving force behind Scott’s journeys to the South Pole.

After he left on his exploration, it has been suggested that Kathleen began a brief affair with Nansen, the mentor of Scott’s rival Amundsen.

When his body was discovered, frozen to death 11 miles from safety, the letter from Kathleen was found in his breast pocket.

Scribbled in pencil it urged Scott to take risks and sacrifice his life for the cause.

Although the letter may seem harsh, Kari defended Kathleen’s actions.


She said: “Kathleen had a traumatic childhood. Both her parents died when she was little and she was passed to a series of elderly relatives who also proceeded to die on her.

“By the time she was an adult she had learnt to hide her grief well.

“After her husband’s death, she attended parties and appeared fine. However, it is clear that she loved her husband very much and was devastated by his death.”

Ten years after Scott’s death Kathleen remarried to the politician Edward Hilton Young.

The pair had a son Wayland Hilton Young. She gained the title Baroness Kennet in 1935 after her husband became Baron.

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