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A Century On, The Death Of This Antarctic Explorer Remains A Mystery

There are cold cases and then there's this.

05/10/2017 7:25 PM AEDT | Updated 05/10/2017 7:25 PM AEDT
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Questions have surrounded Robert Scott's ill-fated South Pole expedition for over a 100 years.

Was it bad leadership or sabotage that caused the tragic deaths of Scott of the Antarctic and four companions on the ill fated return of his scientific expedition to the South Pole?

And was it covered up?

Long blamed on poor planning on the part of expedition head Robert Scott, the discovery of new documents by a University of NSW researcher may point the finger at another expedition member, and explain why it's has been covered up for over a century.

Professor Chris Turney found documents he said reveal how second in command, Lieutenant Edward (Teddy) Evans, undermined Scott by stealing rations from food depots and failing to pass on orders to a dog sled team that would have brought Scott home safely.

"The new documents suggest at the very least appalling leadership on the part of Evans or, at worst, deliberate sabotage, resulting in the death of Scott and his four companions," Turney said.

"The documents also show how public records were altered in later recounts of the expedition and why a Committee of Inquiry into the expedition was rapidly shut down almost before it began."

It's not the first theory to take the blame off Scott.

In 2012 University of Cambridge and the Scott Polar Research Institute researchers concluded Scott may have returned alive had officers under his command not disobeyed orders he had left for them.

The frozen remains of Scott and his travelling companions were found on November 12, 1912, 10 months after they arrived at the South Pole only to find they weren't the first ones there. A Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had beaten them by just 33 days.

"The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected. Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority," Scott wrote in one gloomy entry in his diary.

UIG via Getty Images
Robert Falcon Scott Looking Through A Telescope During The Terra Nova Expedition To The South Pole In 1912.

Petty Officer Edgar Evans was the first man to die after he slipped into a coma.

Then a month later, on March 17, crippled with frostbite, Captain Lawrence Oates left the party's tent on his 32nd birthday.

"'I am just going outside and may be some time...' We knew that Oates was walking to his death... it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman," Scott wrote in his diary.

"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," he wrote a few days later.

Early on, multiple members of Scott's expedition developed doubts about Lieutenant Teddy Evans' role as second in command.

UIG via Getty Images
Evans -- pictured here observing with the Theodolite used by Captain Scott to fix the position of The South Pole -- may have sabotaged the expedition, a UNSW research says.

Scott himself described Evans in letters as "not at all fitted to be second-in-command", and promised to "take some steps concerning this".

Researcher, Professor Turney said it was likely one of the reasons that Scott sent Evans back to base before he pushed on to the South Pole with four companions.

But on the return journey from the Pole, Scott's expedition found rations carefully planted on the journey out had disappeared.

In addition, the updated orders Scott gave to Evans to send a dog team out to meet the returning expedition were seemingly never delivered.

"For Scott and his team, reduced supplies and a failure to follow orders fatally exposed the Polar Party to the extreme conditions they met on the return journey," Turney wrote in Polar Record.

"During their final push across the Ross Ice Shelf, Scott was anticipating his orders had been acted on and the surviving men would soon meet the dog teams."

Instead, Scott and his team were left to die alone and starving in a blizzard.

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Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) naval officer explorer of Antarctic (south pole)

Turney began his hunt while researching his book 1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica, drawing on original diaries of the explorers kept by their families and museums.

Evans -- who became the 1st Baron Mountevans -- had a history of taking more than his share of supplies, and public statements were changed to deflect blame from Evans' role in the missing rations after Scott's death.

At the time, the President of the Royal Geographical Society, Lord Curzon, decided not to hold a public committee ofuniver inquiry.

"For too long Scott has been held responsible for the death of himself and the men of his party who made the fateful expedition to the South Pole," Turney said.

"These new documents tell a very different story about how Scott's planning for the expedition was undermined, reveal that his orders were fatally ignored and why the man who arguably contributed the most to his death was never held accountable for his actions."

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