Age of Wonder

Age of Wonder

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 1041. Royds, Charles W. Rawson | The race to the end of the earth.

Royds, Charles W. Rawson | The race to the end of the earth

Lot Closed

December 9, 08:41 PM GMT


150,000 - 200,000 USD

Lot Details


Royds, Charles W. Rawson

A group of manuscript diaries, detailing Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition, with dates ranging from March 1902 to January 1904

6 notebooks (various sizes, from 160 x 100 mm to 180 x 110 mm). Manuscript diaries accomplished primarily in pencil and occasionally ink, on ruled and graph paper, occasional sketches and diagrams; some pages with hole punch, some relatively minor soiling. Some rubbing to extremities, as expected. 

A remarkable account of the British National Antarctic Expedition — the first official British exploration of that region

By 1902, polar exploration had already long captured the public imagination. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), for example, is framed by Captain Robert Walton—a failed author setting out to explore the North Pole—writing a letter or account to his sister. During Walton's expedition, his crew spies a sledge driven by an enormous figure, and a few hours later, they rescue Victor Frankenstein, who’d been chasing his creature. Wilkie Collins—guided by Charles Dickens—penned The Frozen Deep (1856), a play inspired by the disastrous Franklin expedition, which had set out with the intention of venturing through the last unnavigated sections of the Northwest Passage. The possibility of traversing these uncharted regions, and the sense of wonderment this inspired, did not wane over the course of the century. The Discovery expedition, formally known as the British National Antarctic Expedition, was the first official British exploration of the Antarctic regions since the voyage of James Clark Ross in 1839. 

Clements Markham was the driving force behind the National Antarctic Expedition, and is the man responsible for launching the polar career of Robert Falcon Scott. Markham himself was a Royal Naval cadet and midshipman, and voyaged to the Arctic with HMS Assistance in one of the many searches for the lost Franklin expedition. As his career progressed, Markham made a habit of taking note of promising young naval officers who might be suited to polar exploration. He had first observed Midshipman Robert Falcon Scott in 1887 while serving with the HMS Rover in St Kitts. With Markham's backing, by June of 1900, Scott was made commander of the expedition. In some ways, Scott was an unconventional choice. Though he was a respected veteran of the Royal Navy, he had no experience of exploration, never mind polar travel. John Walter Gregory, Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne—and former assistant geologist at the British Museum—was then appointed the expedition's scientific director. Charles Royds was next to join the party as First Lieutenant in charge of meteorology, and he also supervised the internal economy of the ship. Royds was followed by Michael Barnes, Reginald Skelton, Albert Armitage, Ernest Shackleton, and others who would are now remembered as the titans of polar exploration. 

The purpose-built RRS Discovery set sail from the Isle of Wight on 6 August 1901, and reached Antarctica five months later. In the third week of January 1902, after being briefly delayed in the pack ice, the Discovery entered McMurdo Sound. Anchor was weighed near the southern end of Ross Island, and the crew made the most of its first few months in “summer” conditions, charting the coastline and making scientific observations. As the season turned, Scott’s focus shifted to the main objectives of the expedition: two years of scientific study, and to make the first attempt to the South Pole. To this end, on 2 November 1902, Scott, physician Edward Wilson, and Ernest Shackleton—along with their dogs—set off. From the very start, their journey was riddled with complications, and the trio was forced to turn back on 3 December 1902. Still, they had reached a latitude of 82°17’S, approximately 300 miles further south than anyone before them. The amount of scientific information gathered through the expedition was also extensive, spanning biology, geology, magnetism, meteorology, and zoology. Discoveries included the existence of the only snow-free Antarctic valleys, the longest river in Antarctica, the Cape Crozier emperor penguin colony, and the Polar Plateau, upon which the South Pole is located. 

The present journals provide and immediate and extraordinary account of this legendary expedition. In the first notebook, with entries spanning March-September 1902, Royds chronicles with illuminating specificity the various empirical facets of the expedition: "In Small Bag... Fur coat, trousers, cap, boots...jaegar [sic] helmet, burberry [sic] helmet... In Knapsack... Long stockings...snow goggles, boot laces, roll of films, handkerchief...crampons." Understandably, Royds keeps a detailed account of the weather, but also of the more general activities of the crew. "Tuesday 4 March," he begins. "Left ship accompanied by 8 others of the ships Company to assist to drag. After very heavy hauling the sledges were carried & dragged to the other side of the hill above the sea, where at 2.0 we erected 3 tents, boiled some water for the men & had lunch. On the way up the dogs pulled independently..." Royds, given his responsibility for the ship's general economy, also keeps meticulous notes related to its supplies. In a list dated 17 September 1902, he writes:

Sugar Plenty

Milk None

Cheese Plenty

Chocolate None

The earliest of the notebooks also boast panoramic sketch's of the landscape, diagrams of sledges and pulling patterns, and a copy of Royds's letter to Scott, written from "Camp at the foot of hill between Mts Erebus & Terror." Dated 8 March 1902, Royds informs Scott that "owing to the heavy and very laborious traveling caused by exceedingly soft snow into which everyone's feet sink 18 inches to two feet at every step," he has decided to send half his party (specifically those who had not brought skis) back to base. Royds came within sight of the beach at Cape Crozier, but was forced to turn back because of the uneven surface of the ice.

The subsequent notebooks continue in the same detailed and compelling fashion, with engaging descriptions and sketches. In an entry dated 14 November 1903 (notebook 3), Royds makes note of the "Glorious weather all the morning," and of the surface that is "good, but more often a hard drag." He goes on to describe the topography, and accompanies with with a small sketch of a crevasse. In another entry, dated 9 December of that same year (notebook 3), Royds observes: "Turned out at 5.40, another lovely morning. B. had a toothache, & was rather snappish all the morning, much to Scott's amusement. Got under weigh at 7.15, & found the surface much the same as =last evening. Very soft." From descriptions of ice formations to the diet of the crew, these pages offer an extraordinary glimpse into one of history's most ambitious expeditions.

The RRS Discovery was to remain in Antarctica for another year, not returning to the UK until 10 September 1904. Upon Scott’s return to London, he was promoted to the rank of Captain. Royds later became a Director of Physical Training and Sports in the Royal Navy. Royds is commemorated with Cape Royds (77º 33’ S, 166º 09’ E).