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Scott's great legacy

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Three thousand pounds was raised at the event organised with the National Museum Wales to mark the departure from Cardiff of Captain Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova expedition on 15 June 1910.  The people of Wales and in particular the businessmen of Cardiff played an important role in supporting the expedition and Cardiff was the last port of call in the United Kingdom before the long voyage south.

Entitled Captain Scott’s Legacy: Heroism, Discovery, Inspiration, it brought together three outstanding speakers: Dr David Wilson, the Antarctic historian, Dr Julian Paren, Trustee and Antarctic scientist, and Felicity Aston, Ambassador and polar adventurer  told a fascinated audience about the historical legacy of Scott. 

Dr Wilson, whose great uncle Edward Wilson was lost with Scott, gave a barnstorming talk on the contribution that Scott and his companions have made over the years to culture and science not only in the UK but around the world. He pointed to the fact that Scott died still pulling 35 lbs of geological specimens on his sledge, including the first specimens of the leaf of glossopteris which led to the concept of Gondwana and the continental drift theory.

He made the point that a few days before his death he wrote to his wife asking her to interest their son Peter in nature. Peter Scott of course went on to found the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the World Wild Llfe Fund.

Dr Wilson spoke of the famous phrase uttered by Captain Oates as he left the tent to go to his heroic death: "I am just going outside. I may be some time." 

He talked about the importance of photography in bringing back the wonders of Antarctica and showed some of the extraordinary work of  Herbert Ponting, the expedition photographer, who set new standards for photography which still influence today's photographers. He pointed to the link to Edward Wilson's brilliantly executed watercolours which were famed for their technical accuracy.

Dr Wilson admitted that the lecture was quite a departure from the usual form of lectures which tended to focus on a narrow view historically on such questions as whether Scott should have taken huskies to the pole, should he have taken four men not five, whether he was a good leader or not, how adverse were the weather conditions and so on. But what was the legacy?

The most telling image that Dr Wilson showed was a photograph of the research records of Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen. Scott's pile of reports is about three feet tall, Shackleton's four inches, Amundsen's two inches. It made the point wonderfully and was much commented upon afterwards.

Dr Wilson was followed by Dr Julian Paren who spoke about the research and discovery since the 1950s, making the point that there was a fallow period after Scott until the first permanent base was founded at Port Lockroy in the Antarctic Peninsular for millitary reasons at the tail end of the Second World War.  Manned by scientists, surveyors and geologists, the process of mapping and discovery began. Things hotted up during the International Geophysical Year in 1956/7 when scientific work neglected since Scott's time began again in earnest. It has since accerated with a huge range of experiments and research being carried out each year. 

Felicity Aston, who spent time as a meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey, told the audience that she was inspired by Scott to lead a party of women from the Commonwealth to the South Pole this year. She wanted to show how women from very different backgrounds and experience could work together to achieve something extraordinary. Some of her companions had never even seen snow but after their walk to the Pole they had returned to their countries where they were able to champion the cause of women and achievement.

Wales and particularly Cardiff plays a significant role in the story of the expedition. Admiral Sir Edward Evans RN who captained the Terra Nova, wrote in his book South with Scott, "We were welcomed by the citizens of the great Welsh seaport with enthusiasm. Free docking, free coal, defects made good for nothing, an office and staff placed at our disposal, in fact everything was done with an open-hearted generosity." "...... we left United Kingdom after a rattling good time in Cardiff."  Edgar Evans, from the Gower, accompanied Scott to the South Pole and died with Scott.  The expedition was supported in the media by the Western Mail and it has been suggested that the editor was influential in winning Government support for the expedition from David Lloyd George, then Chancellor.

Two days before sailing Captain Scott held a dinner for his companions and supporters at the Royal Hotel.  A dinner was also held there when the Terra Nova returned on 14th June 1913 and was met by Captain Scott’s widow and her son Peter amongst cheering crowds. The Terra Nova “hoisted the Cardiff flag at the fore and the Welsh flag at the mizzen” outward bound and flew them again when she returned.

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