Reginald Skelton Was Chief Engineer, And Offical Photographer To Captain Scott's Discovery
Expedition; My memories of my grandfather are of an old, but still fit and upright, man who
had a deep gravelly voice and chuckled a lot. I was only ten when he died in 1956 and he never, as far as I can remember, told me anything about his time in the Antarctic. Forty two years after his death we had, in a sense, changed places and I was getting the full story. By then into my fifties, seated in the library at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge, I began reading the Antarctic journals of Reginald Skelton, not yet out of his twenties, who had been chosen as Scott's chief engineer on the Discovery Expedition. Directly outside the window in front of my desk was the building site which was to become the bright, airy Shackleton Memorial Library.
The archivist, Bob Headland, apologised for the terrible noise of the construction work,
which he feared would frustrate any attempt to concentrate, but all I could hear was the
sound of the Discovery's bows scrunching through the pack ice and the howl of the Antarctic
wind as the ship fought to hold her own in the teeth of storm force Southerly squalls off
Coulman Island. Since then I have been back to Cambridge to read the seven volumes of
Reginald Skelton's Discovery Journals, and his sledging diaries, more times than I can
keep track of but every time something new catches my attention. There is a freshness
in this account, written by a young man describing events even as they take place, as
he experiences them without knowing what is to follow, which is lost in any retrospective
telling of the tale.
Through the publication of this book I hope many other people, who would not
otherwise have the opportunity to read the original journals, will be able to
share the pleasure of vicarious participation in the Expedition. There is another
purpose in bringing this book to the public. Skelton, whose name is by no means
universally known, was, nevertheless, an important member of the Expedition and many
books about Discovery include quotations from his journals. Since becoming familiar
with the journals, I have found out that not all these passages are faithfully reproduced.
I am aware of at least two supposedly scholarly books which contain misquotations from
Skelton's journals. Whereas innocent mistakes can be made in interpreting hand-written
documents, the distortion in some instances is of an order which suggests deliberate
misrepresentation. The present book gives all serious students of the history of Antarctic
exploration access to the full authentic text.
- Part 1
- Dundee to Antarctica (1900 to 11th January 1902)
- In which
- Discovery is built, provisioned and feted before setting sail for the unknown south
- the expedition reaches the Antarctic continent five months later having visited Madeira, South Trinidad, South Africa, Macquarie Island and New Zealand en route for coaling, reprovisioning, repairs and scientific purposes, being met everywhere with generosity and hospitality
- In the Ross Sea (12th January to 10th March 1902)
- in which
- Discovery steams south in search of a safe winter haven
- land is discovered on the far side of the 'Great Ice Barrier', the ship reaching further East than any previous expedition
- the first Antarctic flight is made by hydrogen balloon
- the expedition establishes Winter Quarters in McMurdo 'Bay' to the South West of Ross Island
- a number of preliminary sledging journeys are undertaken
- The Fading of the Light (10th March to 30th April 1902)
- In which
- the Cape Crozier party fails to reach the message post and the return of Barne's party ends in tragedy
- the ship is frozen in and preparations are made for winter
- the engineering department is kept very busy, not least by the troublesome windmill intended to light the ship through the months of darkness
- the 'Great Emperor penguin hunt' provides good sport
- and spirits are raised with the first issue of the 'South Polar Times'
- The First Winter (1st May to 31st August 1902)
- In which
- the windmill is finally blown to smithereens, to the relief of the engineering department
- all types of scientific endeavour continue, only suspended in the wild worst of weather
- Bernacchi and Skelton almost perish in a blizzard within a quarter of a mile of the ship
- many forms of entertainment are devised to while away the time on board
- all hands take exercise outside when they can and experience the magic of the aurora and the profound silence of calm moonlit days
- preparations begin for the forthcoming sledging season
- Sledging Near and Far (1st September to 29th November 1902)
- in which
- the expedition's sledgers develop their skills, through numerous short reconnaissance and depot-laying outings, in preparation for the epic journeys to come later in the season
- Royds' party succeeds in reaching the Cape Crozier message post with information of Discovery's whereabouts for the relief ship
- Skelton, with Evans and Quartley, discovers the first Emperor penguin colony seen by humans and takes the first photographs of Emperor chicks
- Scott's party start on their journey to explore as far South as possible
- Armitage organises sports to celebrate the King's birthday
- Discovery of the Polar Plateau (27th November 1902 to 19th January 1903)
- in which
- Armitage's 12-man party, including Skelton, set out for the Western Mountains
- having ascended the Blue Glacier, they find further progress blocked by high mountains
The Antarctic Journals of Reginald Skelton
(Another little job for the Tinker)
(price 39.99 pounds)
"The Antarctic Journals of Reginald Skelton"
ISBN 1 873877 68 4
With many Pictures from Captain Scott's first Antarctic Expedition by Reginald Skelton
who was Chief Engineer and Official Photographer to Captain Scott's Discovery Expedition
by Judy Skelton
(price 39.99 pounds)
ISBN 1 873877 48 X
Pictures from Captain Scott's first Antarctic Expedition
by J.V. Skelton and D.M. Wilson
500 images from one of the great heroic age Antarctic Expeditions with diary
quotations from Chief Engineer R.A. Skelton and Dr E.A Wilson
all Royalties will be donated to support the work of the Scott Polar Reseach Institute
It is centenary time in the Antarctic. Everyone knows Captain Robert Falcon Scott died on
his way back from the South Pole in 1912 but how many people are aware of his earlier, highly successful venture south aboard
'Discovery' from 1901-4? One hundred years later, the story of this first truly scientific
expedition to the Antarctic is vividly told in 'Discovery Illustrated', written
by descendants of two of Scott's companions, Chief Engineer Reginald Skelton
and Dr Edward Wilson.
Judy Skelton and David Wilson have used the expedition's original photographs,
paintings and drawings, together with extracts from their forebears' journals,
to give the reader an experience of this voyage of exploration as close as
possible to that of the men who were there.
Their scientific achievements were truly remarkable.
The members of the expedition were the first men to travel any distance into
the interior of the Antarctic continent, surveying and making meticulous
geographical observations as they battled to survive the hostile elements.
They also studied and recorded the geology and the flora and fauna,
discovering huge numbers of new species, and took copious, magnetic,
meteorological and gravitational measurements.
Stories of football on the ice - with the enthusiastic participation of a penguin
- musical and theatrical entertainments, as well as 'The South Polar Times',
'Discovery's' winter magazine, amply illustrate the lighter side of expedition life.
Cover design by Nicholas Reardon.