Our Conquering the Antarctic tour celebrates the achievements of Captain Scott, the most well-known of the five-man party that reached the South Pole a hundred years ago in 1912. But what of the other four men Scott selected to accompany him to the Pole? They were Wilson, Bowers, Evans and Oates. Over the next four days, we profile the other members of Scott’s team, focusing today on Lawrence Oates.
Captain Lawrence Oates
Born in Putney, London, in 1880, Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates was the only representative of the Army in the polar party. He had served in the Second Boer War as a junior officer in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons. In March 1901, he suffered a gunshot wound to his thigh which left it shattered and his left leg an inch shorter than his right. He was promoted to Captain in 1906, and applied to join Captain Scott’s expedition in 1910.
Scott’s plans included using ponies for pulling sledges, and he accepted Oates on to the expedition partly to take care of the animals during the voyage and exploration. However Oates was highly unimpressed with the horses Scott had selected, writing in his diary “Scott’s ignorance about marching with animals is colossal .” Indeed, Oates and Scott disagreed violently about many things and had wildly opposite personalities. Scott said of Oates in his journal “The Soldier takes a gloomy view of everything, but I’ve come to see that this is a characteristic of him.” In the end, the ponies proved highly unsuitable for the Antarctic conditions and were killed and eaten.
Oates has gone down in history for the manner of his death. His feet had become severely frostbitten and it has been suggested that his war wound had re-opened in the freezing conditions. On March 15 1912, aware that he was slowing the three remaining team members down, Oates asked to be left behind in his sleeping bag, which the others refused to do. In the tent on the following morning, the morning of his 32nd birthday, he declared “I am just going outside and may be some time.” Without enduring the pain and effort of putting his boots on, he then walked out of the camp to certain death in −40 °F (−40 °C) temperatures. Scott wrote in his diary, “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and and an English gentleman.”
A celebration in music, words and images
Stephen Layton, conductor
Robert Murray, tenor
Hugh Bonneville, narrator
3-8 February and 3 March 2012