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, today focusing on Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers.
Lieutenant Henry Bowers
Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers was born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1883. He became a merchant seaman, but later enlisted in the Royal Indian Marine Service and served in Sri Lanka and Burma. He was selected out of 8000 people to join the Terra Nova expedition, and employed by Captain Scott on the advice of a mutual friend. In the tropics, he had impressed others by seeming unaffected by the heat. In the Antarctic weather, he was also impressively hardy: the only man who could sleep with his face outside the sleeping bag.
Despite initially failing to impress Scott, young Bowers, at only 5ft4in tall and nicknamed ‘Birdie’ because of his beak-like nose, soon proved his worth as a member of the team. He was light-hearted and had an excellent sense of humour, which could be detected in his diaries which went on display at the Scott Polar Research Institute in 2010.
At the very last minute, Scott selected Bowers to join the party to trek to the South Pole, which meant that the five-man team had to squeeze into a four-man tent. Some have said that Scott included Bowers thanks to his navigation skills, which seems likely since it was Bowers who pinpointed the exact location of the Pole. It was also Bowers whose “sharp eyes” spied the black flag in the distance that heralded the Terra Nova team’s defeat by Amundsen’s Norwegian party. After the demoralising return journey, Bowers was one of the last two remaining team members who it is believed, died alongside Scott in March 1912.
A celebration in music, words and images
Stephen Layton, conductor
Robert Murray, tenor
Hugh Bonneville, narrator
3-8 February and 3 March 2012