Letter written by Captain Scott as he lay dying in Antarctic to go on show at Polar Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 April 2013

For those bemoaning April snow, Captain Scott’s letter of March 1912 might make chastening reading.

A photo of a section of an ancient handwritten letter
© Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
“Excuse writing,” asked Scott, writing to Admiral Sir Francis Bridgeman during the final days of his life.

“It is -40, and has been for nigh a month.”

Scott was putting pen to paper from his final Antarctic camp. Revealed fully to the public for the first time – 101 years after the great explorer’s final diary entry – the contents of the £79,000 paper also reveal his anxieties over his family and his hope that his team had set a good example.

His movements are well-documented by his journal, held at the British Library in London. But the Scott Polar Research Institute, in Cambridge, will now unite this correspondence with Scott’s other “last letters”, written to his widow Kathleen Scott, Mrs Oriana Wilson, Mrs Emily Bowers, Sir Reginald Smith and George Egerton.

Bridgeman was a Royal Navy officer of some esteem, having led battleships and armed cruisers, sailed as Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet and become First Sea Lord shortly before the death of Scott, who served under his command.

Letters from Scott’s companions, Dr Edward Wilson, Captain Lawrence Oates and Lieutenant Henry Robertson Bowers, are also held at the world-renowned Institute, although no letters are known to survive from PO Edgar Evans, the fifth member of the Polar explorers.

Scott’s letter will join photos, sledging journals and further personal diaries on display. Only two other dispatches from him are thought to remain in private hands: one of them, to Edgar Speyer, sold at auction for £165,000 last year, and the whereabouts of the other, to the author JM Barrie, are “completely unknown”, researchers admit.

The full text of Captain Scott’s letter:

To Sir Francis Bridgeman

My Dear Sir Francis

I fear we have shipped up – a close shave. I am writing a few letters which I hope will be delivered some day. I want to thank you for the friendship you gave me of late years, and to tell you how extraordinarily pleasant I found it to serve under you. I want to tell you that I was not too old for this job.  It was the younger men that went under first. Finally I want you to secure a competence for my widow and boy. I leave them very ill provided for, but feel that the country ought not to neglect them. After all we are setting a good example to our countrymen, if not by getting into a tight place, by facing it like men when we were there. We could have come through had we neglected the sick.

Good-bye and good-bye to dear Lady Bridgeman

Yours ever

R. Scott

Excuse writing – it is -40, and has been for nigh a month

More pictures:

A photo of a female curator holding up an old letter
The letter remains faded ahead of conservation work under the Institute's care© Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge
A close up of black ink on white paper
Scott's signature, at the end of the letter, has almost disappeared
A photo of black ink on grey paper
The letter remains in its original frame
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