The Worst Journey in the World

Apsley Cherry-Garrard

Preview: Issue 1 of 67

This volume is a narrative of Scott's Last Expedition from its departure from England in 1910 to its return to New Zealand in 1913.

It does not, however, include the story of subsidiary parties except where their adventures touch the history of the Main Party.

It is hoped later to publish an appendix volume with an account of the two Geological Journeys, and such other information concerning the equipment of, and lessons learned by, this Expedition as may be of use to the future explorer.

Apsley Cherry-Garrard.


This post-war business is inartistic, for it is seldom that any one does anything well for the sake of doing it well; and it is un-Christian, if you value Christianity, for men are out to hurt and not to help--can you wonder, when the Ten Commandments were hurled straight from the pulpit through good stained glass. It is all very interesting and uncomfortable, and it has been a great relief to wander back in one's thoughts and correspondence and personal dealings to an age in geological time, so many hundred years ago, when we were artistic Christians, doing our jobs as well as we were able just because we wished to do them well, helping one another with all our strength, and (I speak with personal humility) living a life of co-operation, in the face of hardships and dangers, which has seldom been surpassed.

The mutual conquest of difficulties is the cement of friendship, as it is the only lasting cement of matrimony. We had plenty of difficulties; we sometimes failed, we sometimes won; we always faced them--we had to. Consequently we have some friends who are better than all the wives in Mahomet's paradise, and when I have asked for help in the making of this book I have never never asked in vain. Talk of ex-soldiers: give me ex-antarcticists, unsoured and with their ideals intact: they could sweep the world.

The trouble is that they are inclined to lose their ideals in this complicated atmosphere of civilization. They run one another down like the deuce, and it is quite time that stopped. What is the use of A running down Scott because he served with Shackleton, or B going for Amundsen because he served with Scott? They have all done good work; within their limits, the best work to date. There are jobs for which, if I had to do them, I would like to serve under Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and Wilson--each to his part. For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen: and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time. They will all go down in polar history as leaders, these men. I believe Bowers would also have made a great name for himself if he had lived, and few polar ships have been commanded as capably as was the Terra Nova, by Pennell.

In a way this book is a sequel to the friendship which there was between Wilson, Bowers and myself, which, having stood the strain of the Winter Journey, could never have been broken. Between the three of us we had a share in all the big journeys and bad times which came to Scott's main landing party, and what follows is, particularly, our unpublished diaries, letters and illustrations. I, we, have tried to show how good the whole thing was--and how bad. I have had a freer hand than many in this, because much of the dull routine has been recorded already and can be found if wanted: also because, not being the leader of the expedition, I had no duty to fulfil in cataloguing my followers' achievements. But there was plenty of work left for me. It has been no mere gleaning of the polar field. Not half the story had been told, nor even all the most interesting documents. Among these, I have had from Mrs. Bowers her son's letters home, and from Lashly his diary of the Last Return Party on the Polar Journey. Mrs. Wilson has given her husband's diary of the Polar Journey: this is especially valuable because it is the only detailed account in existence from 87° 32' to the Pole and after, with the exception of Scott's Diary already published. Lady Scott has given with both hands any records I wanted and could find. No one of my companions in the South has failed to help. They include Atkinson, Wright, Priestley, Simpson, Lillie and Debenham.

To all these good friends I can do no more than express my very sincere thanks.

I determined that the first object of the illustrations should be descriptive of the text: Wright and Debenham have photographs, sledging and otherwise, which do this admirably. Mrs. Wilson has allowed me to have any of her husband's sketches and drawings reproduced that I wished, and there are many hundreds from which to make a selection. In addition to the six water-colours, which I have chosen for their beauty, I have taken a number of sketches because they illustrate typical incidents in our lives. They are just unfinished sketches, no more: and had Bill been alive he would have finished them before he allowed them to be published. Then I have had reproduced nearly all the sketches and panoramas drawn by him on the Polar Journey and found with him where he died. The half-tone process does not do them justice: I wish I could have had them reproduced in photogravure, but the cost is prohibitive.

As to production, after a good deal of experience, I was convinced that I could trust a commercial firm to do its worst save when it gave them less trouble to do better. I acknowledge my mistake. In a wilderness of firms in whom nothing was first class except their names and their prices, I have dealt with R. & R. Clark, who have printed this book, and Emery Walker, who has illustrated it. The fact that Emery Walker is not only alive, but full of vitality, indicates why most of the other firms are millionaires.

When I went South I never meant to write a book: I rather despised those who did so as being of an inferior brand to those who did things and said nothing about them. But that they say nothing is too often due to the fact that they have nothing to say, or are too idle or too busy to learn how to say it. Every one who has been through such an extraordinary experience has much to say, and ought to say it if he has any faculty that way. There is after the event a good deal of criticism, of stock-taking, of checking of supplies and distances and so forth that cannot really be done without first-hand experience. Out there we knew what was happening to us too well; but we did not and could not measure its full significance. When I was asked to write a book by the Antarctic Committee I discovered that, without knowing it, I had intended to write one ever since I had realized my own experiences. Once started, I enjoyed the process. My own writing is my own despair, but it is better than it was, and this is directly due to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw. At the age of thirty-five I am delighted to acknowledge that my education has at last begun.


Lamer, Wheathampstead, 1921.


Polar exploration is at once the cleanest and most isolated way of having a bad time which has been devised. It is the only form of adventure in which you put on your clothes at Michaelmas and keep them on until Christmas, and, save for a layer of the natural grease of the body, find them as clean as though they were new. It is more lonely than London, more secluded than any monastery, and the post comes but once a year. As men will compare the hardships of France, Palestine, or Mesopotamia, so it would be interesting to contrast the rival claims of the Antarctic as a medium of discomfort. A member of Campbell's party tells me that the trenches at Ypres were a comparative picnic. But until somebody can evolve a standard of endurance I am unable to see how it can be done. Take it all in all, I do not believe anybody on earth has a worse time than an Emperor penguin.

Even now the Antarctic is to the rest of the earth as the Abode of the Gods was to the ancient Chaldees, a precipitous and mammoth land lying far beyond the seas which encircled man's habitation, and nothing is more striking about the exploration of the Southern Polar regions than its absence, for when King Alfred reigned in England the Vikings were navigating the ice-fields of the North; yet when Wellington fought the battle of Waterloo there was still an undiscovered continent in the South.

For those who wish to read an account of the history of Antarctic exploration there is an excellent chapter in Scott's Voyage of the Discovery and elsewhere. I do not propose to give any general survey of this kind here, but complaints have been made to me that Scott's Last Expedition plunges the general reader into a neighbourhood which he is supposed to know all about, while actually he is lost, having no idea what the Discovery was, or where Castle Rock or Hut Point stand. For the better understanding of the references to particular expeditions, to the lands discovered by them and the traces left by them, which must occur in this book I give the following brief introduction.

From the earliest days of the making of maps of the Southern Hemisphere it was supposed that there was a great continent called Terra Australis. As explorers penetrated round the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, and found nothing but stormy oceans beyond, and as, later, they discovered Australia and New Zealand, the belief in this continent weakened, but was not abandoned. During the latter half of the eighteenth century eagerness for scientific knowledge was added to the former striving after individual or State aggrandizement.

Cook, Ross and Scott: these are the aristocrats of the South.

It was the great English navigator James Cook who laid the foundations of our knowledge. In 1772 he sailed from Deptford in the Resolution, 462 tons, and the Adventure, 336 tons, ships which had been built at Whitby for the coal trade. He was, like Nansen, a believer in a varied diet as one of the preventives of scurvy, and mentions that he had among his provisions "besides Saur Krout, Portable Broth, Marmalade of Carrots and Suspissated juice of Wort and Beer." Medals were struck "to be given to the natives of new discovered countries, and left there as testimonies of our being the first discoverers." It would be interesting to know whether any exist now.

After calling at the Cape of Good Hope Cook started to make his Easting down to New Zealand, purposing to sail as far south as possible in search of a southern continent. He sighted his first 'ice island' or iceberg in lat. 50° 40' S., long. 2° 0' E., on December 10, 1772. The next day he "saw some white birds about the size of pigeons, with blackish bills and feet. I never saw any such before." These must have been Snowy Petrel. Passing through many bergs, where he notices how the albatross left them and penguins appeared, he was brought up by thick pack ice along which he coasted. Under the supposition that this ice was formed in bays and rivers Cook was led to believe that land was not far distant. Incidentally he remarks that in order to enable his men to support the colder weather he "caused the sleeves of their jackets (which were so short as to expose their arms) to be lengthened with baize; and had a cap made for each man of the same stuff, together with canvas; which proved of great service to them."

For more than a month Cook sailed the Southern Ocean, always among bergs and often among pack. The weather was consistently bad and generally thick; he mentions that he had only seen the moon once since leaving the Cape.

It was on Sunday, January 17, 1773, that the Antarctic Circle was crossed for the first time, in longitude 39° 35' E. After proceeding to latitude 67° 15' S. he was stopped by an immense field of pack. From this point he turned back and made his way to New Zealand.

Leaving New Zealand at the end of 1773 without his second ship, the Adventure, from which he had been parted, he judged from the great swell that "there can be no land to the southward, under the meridian of New Zealand, but what must lie very far to the south." In latitude 62° 10' S. he sighted the first ice island on December 12, and was stopped by thick pack ice three days later. On the 20th he again crossed the Antarctic Circle in longitude 147° 46' W. and penetrated in this neighbourhood to a latitude of 67° 31' S. Here he found a drift towards the north-east.

On January 26, 1774, in longitude 109° 31' W., he crossed the Antarctic Circle for the third time, after meeting no pack and only a few icebergs. In latitude 71° 10' S. he was finally turned back by an immense field of pack, and wrote:

"I will not say it was impossible anywhere to get farther to the south; but the attempting it would have been a dangerous and rash enterprise, and what, I believe, no man in my situation would have thought of. It was, indeed, my opinion, as well as the opinion of most on board, that this ice extended quite to the Pole, or perhaps joined to some land, to which it had been fixed from the earliest time; and that it is here, that is to the south of this parallel, where all the ice we find scattered up and down to the north is first formed, and afterwards broken off by gales of wind, or other causes, and brought to the north by the currents, which are always found to set in that direction in the high latitudes. As we drew near this ice some penguins were heard, but none seen; and but few other birds, or any other thing that could induce us to think any land was near. And yet I think there must be some to the south beyond this ice; but if there is it can afford no better retreat for birds, or any other animals, than the ice itself, with which it must be wholly covered. I, who had ambition not only to go farther than any one had been before, but as far as it was possible for man to go, was not sorry at meeting with this interruption; as it, in some measure, relieved us; at least, shortened the dangers and hardships inseparable from the navigation of the Southern Polar regions."

And so he turned northwards, when, being "taken ill of the bilious colic," a favourite dog belonging to one of the officers (Mr. Forster, after whom Aptenodytes forsteri, the Emperor penguin, is named) "fell a sacrifice to my tender stomach.... Thus I received nourishment and strength, from food which would have made most people in Europe sick: so true it is that necessity is governed by no law."

"Once and for all the idea of a populous fertile southern continent was proved to be a myth, and it was clearly shown that whatever land might exist to the South must be a region of desolation hidden beneath a mantle of ice and snow. The vast extent of the tempestuous southern seas was revealed, and the limits of the habitable globe were made known. Incidentally it may be remarked that Cook was the first to describe the peculiarities of the Antarctic icebergs and floe-ice."

A Russian expedition under Bellingshausen discovered the first certain land in the Antarctic in 1819, and called it Alexander Land, which lies nearly due south of Cape Horn.

Whatever may have been the rule in other parts of the world, the flag followed trade in the southern seas during the first part of the nineteenth century. The discovery of large numbers of seals and whales attracted many hundreds of ships, and it is to the enlightened instructions of such firms as Messrs. Enderby, and to the pluck and enterprise of such commanders as Weddell, Biscoe and Balleny, that we owe much of our small knowledge of the outline of the Antarctic continent.

"In the smallest and craziest ships they plunged boldly into stormy ice-strewn seas; again and again they narrowly missed disaster; their vessels were racked and strained and leaked badly, their crews were worn out with unceasing toil and decimated with scurvy. Yet in spite of inconceivable discomforts they struggled on, and it does not appear that any one of them ever turned his course until he was driven to do so by hard necessity. One cannot read the simple, unaffected narratives of these voyages without being assured of their veracity, and without being struck by the wonderful pertinacity and courage which they display."

The position in 1840 was that the Antarctic land had been sighted at a few points all round its coasts. On the whole the boundaries which had been seen lay on or close to the Antarctic Circle, and it appeared probable that the continent, if continent it was, consisted of a great circular mass of land with the South Pole at its centre, and its coasts more or less equidistant from this point.

Two exceptions only to this had been found. Cook and Bellingshausen had indicated a dip towards the Pole south of the Pacific; Weddell a still more pronounced dip to the south of the Atlantic, having sailed to a latitude of 74° 15' S. in longitude 34° 16' W.

Had there been a Tetrahedronal Theory in those days, some one might have suggested the probability of a third indentation beneath the Indian Ocean, probably to be laughed at for his pains. When James Clark Ross started from England in 1839 there was no particular reason for him to suppose that the Antarctic coast-line in the region of the magnetic Pole, which he was to try to reach, did not continue to follow the Antarctic Circle.

Ross left England in September 1839 under instructions from the Admiralty. He had under his command two of Her Majesty's sailing ships, the Erebus, 370 tons, and the Terror, 340 tons. Arriving in Hobart, Tasmania, in August 1840, he was met by news of discoveries made during the previous summer by the French Expedition under Dumont D'Urville and the United States Expedition under Charles Wilkes. The former had coasted along Adelie Land, and for sixty miles of ice cliff to the west of it. He brought back an egg now at Drayton which Scott's Discovery Expedition definitely proved to be that of an Emperor penguin.

All these discoveries were somewhere about the latitude of the Antarctic Circle (66° 32' S.) and roughly in that part of the world which lies to the south of Australia. Ross, "impressed with the feeling that England had ever led the way of discovery in the southern as well as in the northern region, ... resolved at once to avoid all interference with their discoveries, and selected a much more easterly meridian (170 ° E.), on which to penetrate to the southward, and if possible reach the magnetic Pole."

The outlines of the expedition in which an unknown and unexpected sea was found, stretching 500 miles southwards towards the Pole, are well known to students of Antarctic history. After passing through the pack he stood towards the supposed position of the magnetic Pole, "steering as nearly south by the compass as the wind admitted," and on January 11, 1841, in latitude 71° 15' S., he sighted, the white peaks of Mount Sabine and shortly afterwards Cape Adare. Foiled by the presence of land from gaining the magnetic Pole, he turned southwards (true) into what is now called the Ross Sea, and, after spending many days in travelling down this coast-line with the mountains on his right hand, the Ross Sea on his left, he discovered and named the great line of mountains which here for some five hundred miles divides the sea from the Antarctic plateau. On January 27, "with a favourable breeze and very clear weather, we stood to the southward, close to some land which had been in sight since the preceding noon, and which we then called the High Island; it proved to be a mountain twelve thousand four hundred feet of elevation above the level of the sea, emitting flame and smoke in great profusion; at first the smoke appeared like snowdrift, but as we drew nearer its true character became manifest.... I named it Mount Erebus, and an extinct volcano to the eastward, little inferior in height, being by measurement ten thousand nine hundred feet high, was called Mount Terror." That is the first we hear of our two old friends, and Ross Island is the land upon which they stand.

"As we approached the land under all studding-sails we perceived a low white line extending from its eastern extreme point as far as the eye could discern to the eastward. It presented an extraordinary appearance, gradually increasing in height as we got nearer to it, and proving at length to be a perpendicular cliff of ice, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred feet above the level of the sea, perfectly flat and level at the top, and without any fissures or promontories on its even seaward face."

Read The Worst Journey in the World today
in Serial Reader