Scott of the Antarctic (as he would be called later) received his first experience of life at polar extremes as the commander of the 1901-1904 National Antarctic Expedition, co-organised by the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society. This was the first British attempt to survey Antarctica since James Clark Ross charted its coastline aboard HMS 'Erebus' and HMS 'Terror' into the years 1839-1843. Accompanying Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) in the vessel 'Discovery' were other legendary figures of exploration from the period: Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922) and the zoologist Edward Wilson (1872-1912). 'Discovery' entered winter quarters off Ross Island in 1902 and commenced a programme of exploration by sledge. The party was relieved in 1904 by the ships 'Morning' and 'Terra Nova'.
The science of the 'Discovery' expedition has been criticised periodically: Scott was a naval officer rather than a professional scientist. Nevertheless, he reported back on some important journeys to the interior of the ‘new’ continent, addressing them to the senior scientists of the respective bodies. The astronomer Sir William Huggins (1824-1910) was President of the Royal Society at this period and these records were intended for him, and for Sir Clements Markham (1830-1916) at the Royal Geographical Society.
'Discovery' off Cape Adare, 9 January 1902
In this report, 'Discovery' is off Cape Adare, in the Ross Sea, a peninsula in Eastern Antarctica discovered and named by James Clark Ross (1800-1862). Scott notes the vessel using steam to drive through the pack-ice: “I feel confident a sailing ship could have made little or no progress.” Their first sight of the continent is the higher ground of Mount Sabine at 3,720 metres (named by Ross in 1841, in honour of Edward Sabine) one of the peaks of the larger Admiralty Range. Scott begins to issue seal meat to eke out rations and plans to use this food source to over-winter. He concludes with the vessel at anchor off Camp Ridley at Robertson Bay, between Cape Adare and Cape Barrow.