Lawrence Oates collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the ponies of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott) and a large amount of correspondence by Oates regarding his army career and the expedition much of it written to his mother Caroline.

Administrative / Biographical History

Lawrence Edward Grace Oates was born in Putney, London, on 17 March 1880. He was educated at Eton College and privately until 1898, when he was gazetted to a militia regiment. Two years later, he joined the Iniskilling Dragoons, a cavalry regiment, and served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa.

Severely wounded in March 1901, he was invalided home for a short time, before returning to the front by the end of the year. Promoted lieutenant in 1902, Oates served with his regiment in Ireland, then in Egypt, where he became captain, and later in India.

Oates volunteered to join the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), and was placed in charge of the nineteen ponies, which he cared for throughout the expedition, assisted by the Russian, Anton Omelchenko. During January and February of 1911, Oates took a prominent part in depot laying in preparation for the following summer's polar journey.

Setting out from Hut Point in November 1911, the Polar and support parties reached the foot of the Beardmore Glacier in December 1911, here the remaining ponies were shot and the dog teams sent back. Somewhat to his surprise, Oates was included in the five-man Polar Party, with Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers and Edgar Evans. Continuing south, they reached the Pole on 17 January 1912, only to find that Roald Amundsen had forestalled them by almost five weeks. On the return journey, the weakened party faced exceptionally unfavourable weather and sledging conditions, and Oates suffered gravely from frostbite. On 16 or 17 March 1912, laid up in a blizzard and concerned that he was reducing his companions' chances of survival, he ended his life by leaving the tent, his famous last words being 'I am just going out. I may be some time.'

Biographical work A very gallant gentleman by Louis Charles Bernacchi, Thornton Butterworth Ltd. London (1933) SPRI Library Shelf 92 [Oates, L.E.G.] Captain Oates, soldier and explorer by Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley, Batsford, London (1982) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Oates, L.E.G.]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds covering expedition material and the mass of correspondence by Oates.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to The Geographical Journal (April 1913) volume 41, number 4, p394-395 and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Dictionary of National Biography Twentieth Century 1912-1921, with index 1901-1921, Oxford University Press (1927) and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.