Books & Manuscripts

“The Worst Journey in the World” - Captain Scott’s Antarctic Expedition

By Sotheby's
These rare photographs offer a chilling insight into Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s deadly expedition to the South Pole. Described by team member Apsley Cherry-Garrard as “the worst journey in the world”, the British Antarctic Expedition saw Scott’s team reach their destination only to find that they had been beaten by a team from Norway. On the journey back to base camp, every single member of the team perished. But these never-before-seen photos by expedition photographer Herbert Ponting survived. The Terra Nova photos are a highlight of our upcoming sale Travel, Atlases, Maps & Natural History (14 May | London).

T his fascinating album comes from the earliest period of reproduction from Expedition photographs, and appears to be focused around Scott’s Polar Party, with contact images by Scott and Bowers of the march to and from the Pole; photographs of Scott’s letters and sledging journals from the march; and from Atkinson’s search party.

Herbert George Ponting (1870–1935) was the expedition photographer and cinematographer, the first professional photographer to gain extensive access to the Antarctic. Knowing he would not be able to accompany the Polar Party on their march to the Pole, Ponting instructed a group of expedition members, including Captain Scott and “Birdy” Bowers, on how to use their smaller cameras in the harsh light and extreme climate of the Antarctic.

On the march to the Pole, Scott and Bowers organized a co-ordinated project of photographing what they were encountering and how the party conducted its arduous journey—another first in the annals of Antarctic exploration. The result was an unprecedented photographic record of the march towards the Pole, the region of the Pole itself, and the subsequent tragedy which befell the party on their return journey.

In the aftermath of Scott’s and the Polar Party’s deaths, all photographs from the expedition fell under the jurisdiction of an executive committee, who dealt with the many demands from the press and public for imagery. Unhappily, this resulted in very few of Scott’s and Bowers’ photographs seeing the light of day. Inexplicably, images other than Ponting’s became muddled up, resulting in misattributions of photographers and locations, even when they were published or included in private albums distributed to editors, expedition participants, relatives and friends.

From the annotations in this album, it seems clear the album was compiled for purposes of publication—one of the few to have surfaced from the earliest period of reproduction. At some point after the November, 1913 publication of Scott’s diary in Scott’s Last Expedition, the executive committee relinquished control of all the expedition’s images. Ponting’s many fine photographs were fortunately returned to him and made available, but no reproductions from the cameras of Scott and Bowers or from Atkinson’s search party were seen again until their recent rediscovery this Century.

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