Sunday 17 April 2011

The Secrets of Scott's Hut

Scott kept the cameras rolling in all conditions
When Ben Fogle came to Islandmore to film for The One Show, he was about to head off to Antarctica to spend a month with the New Zealand team who were exploring, in forensic detail, the contents of Captain Scott's hut at Cape Evans. The six-year project's ambitious aim is to conserve the hut and its contents - in situ - for posterity.

Ben Fogle in Scott's hut at Cape Evans

I've just watched the resulting BBC2 documentary, 'The Secrets of Scott's Hut', and I confess I was transfixed, especially by the sheer scale of the place and the number of items (over 10,000) which were left behind when the hut was abandoned in 1911, and which have survived more or less intact: canned food, clothing, reindeer sleeping bags, fuel, stoves - the paraphernalia of a doomed expedition which captured the public imagination at the time and has held it ever since.

Recently-discovered photographs taken by Scott himself

Just as fascinating as the hut's interior were extracts from Scott's and Gran's diaries, and photographs taken not just by the expedition photographer, but by Scott himself when he made his final ill-fated push for the South Pole.

I hadn't known that the expedition was so science-orientated; that Titus Oates was concerned enough for the Siberian ponies that he once personally rebuilt their six-foot high snow shelter eight times in one night; that an artist and scientist named Wilson was so determined to bring back the eggs of the emperor penguin that he and two colleagues made a five-week round trip in dark mid-winter and appalling conditions to do so; or that of Scott's diarised catalogue of the three factors which combined to make failure inevitable - Oates's illness (his feet were 'in tatters' from frostbite), severe storms and a shortage of fuel at the supply depots - the most critical, and the one he was unable to explain, was the fuel shortage and that this turns out, one hundred years on, to have been caused by evaporation when the leather seals on the paraffin containers shrunk in the cold.

The failure of seals on the fuel cans was a critical factor

It's a story, of course, of great courage and even greater poignancy - everyone knows the last entry in Scott's diary: 'It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more.. For God's sake look after our people.'
'For God's sake look after our people.'

Evidently, Captain Scott is a hero of Fogle's. He sums him up as being 'so much more than a two-dimensional hero'. Scott was, he says, 'a man with qualities that made other men want to follow him to the ends of the Earth.'
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