Scott's last expedition

This display at the National Library of Scotland ran from 12 January to 25 March 2012.


We commemorated the men of the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913 in our first treasures display in 2012.

Diary extracts, letters, books, postcards and maps were on show to help us tell one of the great stories of achievement, tragedy, endurance and courage.

Led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the expedition found itself in a race with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole.


Polar party triumphs, then perishes

Detail from map of expedition route
Detail from the pole
party's route
Captain Scott in the Antarctic

Scott set sail from Cardiff on the 'Terra Nova' in 1910.

The following year, the men began their journey across the Antarctic.

Eventually most of them turned back, taking the dogs with them, and leaving Scott and four others to complete the task, hauling the sledges of supplies themselves.

On 17 January 1912 the small group successfully reached the pole — only to find that Amundsen had got there before them.

On their journey back through one of the most hostile environments on the planet, all five men perished. They had been only 11 miles from away from a supply depot, and their tragic deaths stirred a national outpouring of grief.


Scientific achievements of the expedition

Dr Wilson in the Antarctic
Scientist and pole party
member Dr Edward

The story of the pole party has held the public's fascination ever since.

And while the fact of reaching the South Pole was a significant achievement in itself, the expedition was more than just that.

Scott's expedition went beyond the edge of the known world. It carried out an extensive programme of scientific experiments, which improved our understanding of zoology, meteorology, geology, and the very make up of our planet.


Exhibits from the polar collections

Photo of sailing ship in ice
'Terra Nova', by
Herbert Ponting.

Handwriting from letter
Details from a letter
about a donation

Penguins illustration from book cover
Levick's penguins book.
Full book cover image

Our display charted the story from the planning of the expedition through to its legacy. Exhibits included:

  • Letters from Robert Falcon Scott about donations sent to help fund the expedition, which was largely a private venture.
  • Menus from dinners organised to bring together the explorers and potential sponsors.
  • Photos of pole party members, including Scott.
  • A book of photos by the first man to film the Antarctic. Herbert Ponting recorded the expedition on his kinematograph
  • A variety of press cuttings, covering, for example, the party arriving at the pole, the finding of the bodies, and the return of the expedition ship, Terra Nova' to New Zealand in 1913.
  • A letter to General Douglas Haig in 1913 from Edward Evans, informing him of the death of Captain Scott and his colleagues. Second in command of the 'Terra Nova', Evans learned of the deaths in January 1913.
  • A copy of 'Scott's last expedition', edited by Leonard Huxley (1914). Scott's diaries make up the first part of this work, with scientific papers by other members of the polar expedition completing the second volume.
  • 'Antarctic penguins', written by Dr George Murray Levick (1914). During the expedition the zoologist was able to study the region's Adelie penguins.
  • Aspley Cherry-Garrard's book, 'The worst journey in the world: Antarctica 1910-1913' (1922). The youngest member of the expedition wrote a moving account as a guide to polar explorers.

Material for this small display came from the mountaineering and polar collections and the manuscripts collections at NLS.



The treasures display in our George IV Bridge Building is a small sample of the millions of items in our collections. We change the display several times a year.

Past treasures displays



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