Robert Falcon Scott collection

Scope and Content

The extensive collection comprises of material relating to the two expeditions Scott led to the Antarctic (British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904, British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913) the relief expeditions sent to the first of those expeditions (1902-1903-1904), correspondence with his wife Kathleen parents (Hannah and John) other family members (sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces) a large amount of correspondence (regarding naval matters and Antarctic exploration, development of motor sledges etc.) and miscellaneous papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Falcon Scott was born on 6 June 1868 at Outlands near Devonport, the third child of Hannah and John Scott, (a brewer, and descendant of three generations of sailors). He was sent to Stubbington House, Fareham, Hampshire to be coached for a cadetship in the Royal Navy and joined the training ship HMS Britannia at the age of thirteen.

Between 1883 and 1887, he served as midshipman on four vessels, HMS Boadicea, HMS Liberty, HMS Monarch and HMS Rover, meeting Clements Markham, secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, for the first time while serving on HMS Rover.

Scott spent the winter of 1887 to 1888 at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, passing his examination for the rank of lieutenancy in 1888. He was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant and instructed to join the cruiser HMS Amphion, stationed in the Pacific. His service in the Pacific was followed by a brief spell in the Mediterranean onboard HMS Caroline and in September 1891, he reported to the torpedo training ship, HMS Vernon, at Portsmouth for a two-year course. He emerged with first-class certificates in all subjects and was appointed to HMS Vulcan, an experimental torpedo depot-ship stationed in the Mediterranean.

The next few years were clouded by family troubles. Scott's father had sold the brewery, living on the proceeds of the sale until the family was reduced to poverty. Scott applied for a transfer to HMS Defiance, a torpedo training ship stationed at Devonport, in order to help arrange the lease of the family home, Outlands. He was then appointed torpedo lieutenant in HMS Empress of India, meeting Clements Markham for a second time in 1897. In the summer of 1897, Scott was appointed torpedo lieutenant to HMS Majestic and in the same year, his father died, leaving his mother, Hannah, almost penniless. Scott contributed to the support of his mother and his sisters, and after the death of his brother Archie, he became completely responsible for his family's welfare.

In June 1899, while serving in HMS Majestic, Clements Markham told him of a proposed British Antarctic expedition and within two days, Scott had applied to command the expedition. In June 1900, Scott was appointed to lead the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904, and later in the same month was appointed to the rank of commander. Recruiting a company of Royal Navy and Merchant Navy seamen aboard the purpose-built expedition ship Discovery, and with a strong scientific team, the expedition sailed from Lyttleton on 21 December 1901, wintering at Hut Point, Ross Island.

Scott led the first major sledging expedition, accompanied by Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton, setting out in November 1902 to explore inland across the Ross Ice Shelf toward the South Pole. On 30 December 1902, they reached 82°17'S, their farthest south. In October 1903, Scott led a nine-man party westward to explore further the routes in the western mountains. Along with Edgar Evans and William Lashley, Scott climbed a staircase of glaciers to stand on the polar plateau. They then marched many miles across the bleak plain, turning back on 30 November, and returning to Discovery just in time to celebrate Christmas 1903. Having remained ice-bound in McMurdo Sound since 1902, Discovery was eventually freed from the ice in February 1904, after the arrival of the relief ships Morning and Terra Nova. The expedition was highly successful, having made the first extensive exploration on land in Antarctica and producing many volumes of scientific results.

On his return, Scott was promoted to captain, decorated and wrote a book on the expedition, The voyage of the Discovery. This was followed by postings to HMS Victorious in 1906, HMS Albemarle in 1907 and HMS Essex in 1908. Later in 1908, he was appointed commander of HMS Bulwark and in September, he married Kathleen Bruce, a talented sculptress.

Scott was appointed Naval Assistant to the Admiralty in 1909, but was motivated to plan an expedition to the South Pole by the success of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton). Shackleton had located the Pole on the featureless high ice plateau, and had come within 97 nautical miles of it.

Scott returned to the Antarctic with the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913, wintering at Cape Evans on Ross Island. He led a strong scientific team, both naval and civilian, that included several companions from his previous expedition. Aware of the rival bid of Roald Amundsen, who was equipped with excellent dog teams, Scott started out for the Pole in late October 1911. With the aid of experimental tractors, dog teams and ponies, he followed his previous route across the Ross Ice Shelf before resorting to man-hauling up the Beardmore Glacier in Shackleton's footsteps. The five-man polar party successfully traversed the plateau, reaching the Pole on 17 January 1912, to find that Amundsen had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. On the return journey the weakened party faced exceptionally unfavourable weather and sledging conditions. Edgar Evans was the first to die, near the foot of the Beardmore. Lawrence Oates followed on 16 March, when he famously left the tent in a blizzard for the good of the party. Scott himself died with Henry Bowers and Edward Wilson in late March 1912, laid up by a blizzard 11 miles short of One Ton Depot.

Published work The voyage of the Discovery by Robert Falcon Scott, John Murray, London (1913) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1901-1904 Scott], The diaries of Captain Robert Scott, a record of the second Antarctic expedition, 1910-1912 volumes 1-6, University Microfilms Tylers Green (1968) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1910-1913 Scott], Scott's last Expedition, from the personal journals of Captain R F Scott John Murray, London (1964) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1910-1913 Scott]


The collection is split into five sub-fonds, these comprise of material on the Antarctic expeditions (British National, Relief and British Antarctic), correspondence with his family (Kathleen, his parents and other family members), general correspondence and miscellaneous papers respectively.

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 Scott of the Antarctic by Elspeth Huxley, Weindenfeld & Nicholson, London (1977) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Scott] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) SPRI Library (7) and Captain Robert Falcon Scott by Lachlan Maxwell Forbes, SPRI Library Pam 92[Scott] and Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events by Robert Keith Headland (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 are possible.

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library. This material includes photographic collections for the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 and the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.