Retford of the Antarctic

The Grammar School's connection with the South Pole

Thanks to research done by Sam Curtis of Retford. See email

Most people know about Scott of the Antarctic, John Mills starred in the classic Ealing film of the same name way back in 1948. But how many remember the support team that got him there? Those who should also be acknowledged? Those who never came home? Great names like Oates, Evans, Bowers and Retford of the Antarctic. Read on...

In September 1909, Captain Scott, C.V.O., R.N., published his plans for the British Antarctic Expedition of the following year, and the appeal resulted in £10,000 being collected as a nucleus fund.

The Retfordian
Summer Term 1910, Volume IV, Number 2, page 33


    As is well known, Captain Scott, R.N., is leading a British expedition in a dash on the South Pole, and has appealed to the school-boys of Great Britain to assist him with funds as far as they can. In response to this call our boys subscribed exactly three guineas, which the Head Master increased to the amount required to provide one sledge. The following reply was received from Captain Scott:-

29th March, 1910.    

    Dear Sir,-I have much pleasure in acknowledging the receipt of your subscription of £5 12s. 6d. towards the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910, which has been duly paid into the Expeditionary Account, from the Grammar School, Retford.
    With our most sincere gratitude for your patriotic support and kind wishes for the success of the Expedition,-Believe me, yours very truly,

(Signed) R. SCOTT,          
Captain, R.N.      
(Commanding British Antarctic Expedition, 1910).

      Rev. T. Gough,
          Grammar School,
                Retford, Notts.

    And in his own handwriting Captain Scott has added this post-script:-

    “Will you please give my hearty thanks to the boys for their generous subscription and good wishes. A sledge will be called ‘Retford.'-R.S.”

    Captain Scott's vessel, the Terra Nova, left London at the beginning of June, and the gallant explorer himself leaves England in July to join his ship in New Zealand. We heartily pray that success may attend his enterprise, and that he and all his brave crew may return in safety.

Retford was a 12-foot Norwegian niake sledge - 27 of which are recorded as being subscribed, and presumably similarly named, mostly by schools - one of 60 loaded on the Terra Nova and taken South by the expedition in addition to the three motor sledges (£1,000 each) Scott had placed so much faith in.

On the final Polar assault, Retford was pulled by Michael - one of 19 Siberian ponies (£5 each) bought for the trip in Vladivostok and transported via Japan to New Zealand, which had been funded by St. Paul's School - and led by 26-year-old Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard, who was an Oxford graduate and had offered £1,000 to join the expedition. Cherry-Garrard was initially turned down, but Scott was so impressed when the young landowner donated the money in spite of his rejection, he was signed up as assistant zoologist.

Michael and the Retford sledge

Taken in October 1911 by expedition photographer Herbert George Ponting,
this picture shows Cherry-Garrard holding Michael's head while Retford is attached.
Captain Oates is standing upright at the rear of Michael.

The ten ponies who had survived the first winter in the Antarctic set off on their final one-way journey 31 October 1911. On 28 November the pony Chinaman, being led by physicist Charles Silas Wright, was shot less than 90 miles short of the Beardmore glacier at Camp 24, and his shorter 10-foot sledge was transferred to Michael. The Retford sledge was left at this depôt (The South Pole Ponies, T.K. Mason, 1979).

Michael was shot on 4 December, at the end of the Barrier Stage in front of The Gateway (to Mount Hope) at 83° 22' S. Three days of blizzards followed, during which Cherry-Garrard wrote in his diary, "Michael is well out of this: we are now eating him. He was in excellent condition and tastes very good, though tough." (The Worst Journey in the World - Antarctic 1910-1913, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Constable & Co. Ltd., 1922).

The first supporting party - Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard, B.A., Charles Silas Wright, B.A., Doctor Edward L. Atkinson, Surgeon, R.N. and Petty Officer Patrick Keohane, R.N. - turned back at 85° 15' S, on 22 December.

Although Scott's final diary entry was dated 29 March 1912, the tent containing Lieutenant Henry Robertson Bowers, R.I.M., Captain Robert Falcon Scott, C.V.O., R.N., and Doctor Edward Adrian Wilson, B.A., M.B., was not found until 12 November. Petty Officer Edgar Evans, R.N., had died on 17 February, Captain Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, 6th Iniskilling Dragoons, went outside on 17 March.

Atkinson (who had taken over commanding the main expedition), Cherry-Garrard, Keohane and Wright were among the search team to ultimately find, and then bury, these last three members of the five-man Southern Party. Located only eleven miles short of the main One Ton Depôt, records show that this Depôt should have been positioned further south the previous year (more than eleven miles), but due to exhaustion of the ponies and bad weather Scott made a decision which may have ultimately cost his life.

"... Atkinson read the lesson from the Burial Service from Corinthians. Perhaps it has never been read in a more magnificent cathedral and under more impressive circumstances - for it is a grave which kings must envy. Then some prayers from the Burial Service: and there with the floor-cloth under them and the tent above we buried them in their sleeping-bags - and surely their work has not been in vain. [...] We never moved them. We took the bamboos of the tent away, and the tent itself covered them. [...] A great cairn has been built over them, a mark which must last for many years. That we can make anything that will be permanent on this Barrier is impossible, but as far as a lasting mark can be made it has been done. On this a cross has been fixed, made out of ski. On either side are the two sledges, fixed upright and dug in."
(The Worst Journey in the World - Antarctic 1910-1913,
Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Constable & Co. Ltd., 1922).

News of the Southern Party's fate was eventually transmitted to the world on 10 February 1913, when the Terra Nova returned to New Zealand.

The Retfordian
Easter Term 1913, Volume VII, Number 1, page 5


    In connection with the passing away of the band of brave heroes under Capt. Scott, it is of sad interest to remember that among the thirty sledges given by various public schools for the Antarctic Expedition was one subscribed for by boys and masters of the Retford School. Besides the formal acknowledgement of this to Mr. Gough, Captain Scott, in his own handwriting, added the following:-

    “Will you please give hearty thanks to the boys for their generous subscription and good wishes. The sledge will be called “RETFORD.”

R. SCOTT, CAPTAIN, R.N.,            
Commanding British Antarctic Expedition, 1910.”