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One journey never taken by Captain Scott

It is the smallest of collection items, yet this scrap of paper is a profound reminder of the transitory nature of our lives. Marine invertebrates curator Wilma Blom discovered this unclipped rail ticket issued to Captain R F Scott in the Manuscript collection at Auckland Museum.

A scrapbook discovery

Captain Scott's unused ticket.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

The discovery was made in a scrapbook that was compiled by shipping magnate Sir Joseph Kinsey. It's a New Zealand Railways' first-class rail ticket from Lyttelton to Christchurch, and the conditions of the journey are precise: it had to be used by 30 April 1912 and was 'Not Transferable'.

It was issued to Captain R F Scott. Of course, he never made the first-class journey to the city of Christchurch. Instead Captain Robert Scott perished in bitterly cold temperatures of -44 degrees Celsius in Antarctica.

The Terra Nova expedition

Robert Falcon Scott's Pole party — Scott is standing in front of the Union flag.

Image from Huxley, Leonard (ed) (1913) "The Return from the Pole" in Scott's Last Expedition.

It's more than a century since the world first heard about the deaths of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the men in his polar party, Henry Robertson Bowers, Edgar Evans, Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, and Edward Adrian Wilson. 

Captain Scott and his party left Lyttelton for Antarctica on 29 November 1910 aboard the Terra Nova, a former whaling ship which also gave its name to Scott's Terra Nova Expedition. Apart from attempting to become the first men to reach the South Pole, they aimed to carry out a large amount of scientific work. Based on Scott’s, and also Shackleton's, earlier Antarctic experiences the Terra Nova Expedition was always planned to be a multi-season venture. Scientific bases would be established and depots would be laid during the first season with the actual polar journey not beginning until the following spring (late 1911).

However, as we now know things did not go to plan. The Antarctic Heritage Trust website describes the events of the expedition. It is enough to say that Scott, and many of the other expedition members were not on the Terra Nova when it again sailed for New Zealand. 

After staying for most of the Antarctic summer, the Terra Nova sailed for New Zealand in February 1911. It would not return until the beginning of February 1912. This was to resupply the bases, but judging by the dates on the rail ticket, it was also to bring back the men to New Zealand if the conquest of the South Pole was successful.

A scrapbook discovery

Captain Scott's ticket was pinned together with a number of others. Some were first class tickets and some were second class. They were between two folded blue pages, one headed 'Captain, Officers & Scientific Staff of R.S.Y. Terra Nova', the other 'Crew of R.S.Y. Terra Nova'. The first page contains the list of those to whom first class rail passes had been issued; the other page lists those who were consigned to second class travel.

Those members of the Terra Nova Expedition who returned in early 1912 have a tick against their names; those who did not, have been crossed off. And as we now know the latter were those who died – Scott, Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Evans – as well as those who were trapped for a further winter.

The tickets came to Auckland Museum as part of the scrapbook of Sir Joseph James Kinsey, donated by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1962. Born in 1852 in Kent, England, Sir Joseph was educated at the Royal Naval School, Greenwich. After nine years as Master at Dulwich College, he emigrated to New Zealand where, apart from becoming Consul for Belgium in Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland, he established the shipping firm Kinsey, Barns & Co and gained a knighthood in 1919.

Sir Joseph had a great interest in Antarctic exploration and his firm became the New Zealand headquarters for expeditions to that continent – especially the 1901-1904 Discovery expedition, the 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition of Captain Scott and the 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The passenger list for the Terra Nova expedition in 1911. Those who returned in early 1912 have a tick against their names; those who did not return have been crossed off.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

It was presumably Kinsey, or more likely, an underling from his firm, who arranged the rail tickets in expectation of the return of the Terra Nova after its second voyage to the ice.

News of the Terra Nova's return as reported by the Press Association.

On December 14, 1912 the Terra Nova went back to the Antarctic and great secrecy surrounded her third and final return from the ice. She was not expected until sometime in March 1913, and when she arrived off Oamaru on 10 February she was at first mistaken for another vessel. She would not identify herself and nor would the two men who rowed ashore, and who later travelled by rail to Lyttelton. Speculation was rife that it was "supposed to be Captain Scott and one of his officers".

However, they were Dr Edward Atkinson and Lieutenant Harry Pennell who were sworn to secrecy until the news of the tragedy had first been telegraphed to Joseph Kinsey and thence to London.

The rail tickets and Kinsey's scrapbook are held in the manuscript collection in Auckland Museum's library. There are photographs of the 1910-1912 British Antarctic Expedition given to Kinsey and other memorabilia such as sponsors' letters. 

Further reading and references

  • The story of the Terra Nova'arrival at Oamaru
  • The first report in column 7 on p.7 of The Press of 11 February, 1913, still speculating on the return of Captain Scott.
  • One of the first reports, after the news of Scott’s death was out, in the evening broadsheet Auckland Star of 11 February, 1913.

Cite this article

Blom, Wilma. One journey never taken by Captain Scott. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 8 January 2016. Updated: 8 November 2016.
URL: www.aucklandmuseum.com/discover/collections/topics/one-journey-never-taken-by-captain-scott

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