In last letter, South Pole explorer faced death calmly

Associated Press Writer

Knowing he was days from death on a tragic trek back from the South Pole in 1912, Capt. Robert Falcon Scott wrote to his wife that "we are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through."

However, he assured Kathleen Scott, he faced his end without regret. "How much better it has been than lounging in comfort at home," Scott wrote in the letter, recovered the year after he and his companions died of cold and starvation.

Scott's courage in facing his doom -- after the bitter disappointment of losing the race to the South Pole -- burnished his stature as a national hero and inspired generations of British youth.

Now the British explorer's last letter to his wife, previously published only in part, will be among those displayed to the public in his own sprawling handwriting for the first time beginning Wednesday at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University.

"As one who works as a scientist in the polar regions, particularly the last letter conveys the tremendous sense of isolation," said professor Julian Dowdeswell, director of the institute founded in 1920 as a memorial to Scott.

"When you are working on large icecaps ... you do feel an awfully long way from home, and that's with modern communications," said Dowdeswell, speaking by telephone Jan. 10 from Uruguay, where he was waiting to depart for the Antarctic.

Scott's private correspondence was recently donated to the institute by Philippa Scott, widow of the explorer's only child, Peter Scott, who died in 1989.

"Make the boy interested in natural history if you can, it is better than games," Robert Scott wrote from Antarctica. His son, then 3, went on to graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge, and have a distinguished career in ornithology.

The letter was found along with the explorer's body and his effects several months after his death, 11 miles from his supply camp. Kathleen Scott was on her way to New Zealand to await his return when she received confirmation of his death.

Scott was a giant of the great age of exploration, but his expedition was doubly jinxed. It lost to the Norwegian Roald Amundsen in the race to be first to the South Pole. Amundsen got there Dec. 14, 1911; Scott arrived Jan. 17.

"Great God! This is an awful place, and terrible enough for us to have labored to it without the reward of priority," Scott wrote in his journal.

The journal, published in 1913 as "Scott's Last Expedition" and still in print, included just a few snippets from his last letter to his wife.

The tale of Scott's last journey has inspired generations of youth. Dowdeswell said he vividly recalled the drawing in a children's book of Scott planting the Union Jack at the pole.

Before setting off on his last expedition, Scott was a national hero after his first foray into the Antarctic from 1901 to 1904. His account of that adventure, "The Voyage of the Discovery," was a bestseller.

The last letter, which opens with the salutation "To my widow," is a testament to Scott's calm courage. He and two other men, Lt. Henry Bowers and Dr. Edward Wilson, clung to hopes of surviving.

Petty Officer Edgar Evans already had died, and Capt. Lawrence Oates, suffering from severe frostbite, had set off into a blinding storm with his parting shot: "I am just going outside and may be some time."

At that point, Scott reckoned he was 20 miles from a depot where the expedition had stowed provisions -- "but we have very little food or fuel."

His thoughts turned again toward home.

"Dearest ... cherish no sentimental rubbish about remarriage -- when the right man comes to help you in life you ought to be your happy self again. 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."

Kathleen Scott remarried politician Edward Hilton Young in 1922 and became Baroness Kennet when he was ennobled in 1935. She died in 1947.

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