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Captain Scott and his 30 hour waterproof pocketwatch

by Michael Weare
1 December, 2011
2 Comments | Discuss this article

About the author

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

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Friday, December 1st 1911 – Camp 27 Lat. 82º 47′: The ponies are tiring pretty rapidly. It is a question of days with all except Nobby. Yet they are outlasting the forage, and to-night against some opinion I decided Christopher must go. He has been shot; less regret goes with him than the others, in remembrance of all the trouble he gave at the outset, and the unsatisfactory way he has gone of late. Three more marches ought to bring us through. With the seven crocks and the dog teams we must get through I think. The men alone ought not to have heavy loads on the surface, which is extremely trying.

Nobby was tried in snowshoes this morning, and came along splendidly on them for about four miles, then the wretched affairs racked and had to be taken off. There is no doubt that these snowshoes are the thing for ponies, and had ours been able to use them from the beginning they would have been very different in appearance at this moment.

This day 100 years ago, Robert Falcon Scott and his brave team of British Antarctic explorers; were not having a good time of it. The march South had began exactly a month earlier on November 1st, 1911. Their doomed mission was to attempt to be the first team to reach the South Pole. It was destined to drag painfully on for months until Scott’s last entry in his diary on March 29th 1912, which read:

Since the 21st we have had a continuous gale from W.S.W. and S.W. We had fuel to make two cups of tea apiece and bare food for two days on the 20th. Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far.

It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.

R. SCOTT.
For God’s sake look after our people.

The irony is that Scott’s ‘epic fail’ completely eclipsed Roald Amundsen’s successful expedition to the South Pole. Amundsen’s expedition benefitted from careful preparation, good equipment, appropriate clothing, a simple primary task (Amundsen did no surveying on his route South and is known to have taken only two photographs), an understanding of dogs and their handling, and the effective use of skis.

That’s great, but who, other than the Norwegians, wants a story of uneventful Scandinavian efficiency when there is an enduring legend of British pluck and derring-do with a tragic but heroic end.

Scott in his quarters before the expedition

Scott's 30 hour waterproof pocketwatch

In typical arrogant British fashion, Scott felt the use of dogs was for wimps and instead used horses. The clothing was bulky but not sufficiently warm or waterproof. In fact one of the few things which survived intact apart from cutlery, crockery and a telescope was Scott’s 30 hour waterproof pocket watch supplied by Samuel Smith & Sons of the Strand, London, for his first Antarctic expedition which began in 1901.

Samuel Smith & Sons ‘Makers to the Admiralty’ were one of the largest retailers of precision and technical pocket watches of the period. The watch can be seen hanging on the wall in the background of the picture above.

The watch and other relics from the last expedition are now on permanent display in the National Maritime Museum. in Greenwich, London.

Michael Weare | Website

Michael Weare has been a professional writer for 30 years, writing about Japanese technology, German and Italian cars, British tailoring and Swiss watches. Michael manages the editorial content of Click Tempus and will be keeping the magazine fresh and informative with regular features, as well as bringing great writers to the magazine. Email: michael@clicktempus.com

Discuss: Captain Scott and his 30 hour waterproof pocketwatch

2 Comments


  1. Bob Collins

    The watch was not water proof in the modern sense. It had an inner close fitting case but no seals. it relied on being kept dry in a water proof pouch.
    Here are some pictures of the identical model – a standard RN officer’s watch of the period.
    Sorry – cannot paste pictures.
    Bob Collins

  2. robin kato

    I have an old big face pocket watch or clock,cause it slides into a hook like holder to sit on a night stand,thats how big it is.it look like its made of cooper or bronze,but i dont know how or who to show it to for an appraisel.if i can send you my e-mail address,will you respond to what i should do.I would like to send you a picture of it.

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