St George’s doctor who reached South Pole
Dr Edward Wilson enjoyed walking from his home in Battersea to work at St George’s Hospital along the River Thames where ‘one sees gulls and yellow wagtails and London has a beauty all of its own.’
His love of nature and the outdoor life led him to join the race to conquer the South Pole with Captain Robin Scott.
Scott of the Antarctica was already a national hero for his previous polar expeditions but the South Pole was the unconquered jewel in the crown.
Dr Wilson, affectionately known as ‘Uncle Bill,’ by his colleagues, was no stranger to the Arctic having previously joined Scott on the Discovery Expedition as its science and medical officer.
Wilson was also a talented artist whose skills had been much in demand at the hospital where his drawings of diseased organs where used to illustrate various medical papers by his peers
The Terra Nova Expedition set sail on a wave of patriotic fervour from Cardiff in the summer of 1910.
It reached its staging post in the edge of the ice pack six months later and work began establishing a chain of supply depots for the final assault by foot.
Poor weather conditions and ponies unable to cope with the harsh weather meant the main supply point, One Ton Depot, was left 35 miles north of its original location. It was a decision that would later prove fatal.
Wilson led a smaller preliminary expedition to collect eggs from penguin breeding grounds. The 60 mile journey was made in almost total darkness with temperatures dropping to minus 70.
The men lost their tent in a blizzard and had to survive huddled in their sleeping bags under a snow drift for a day-and-a-half before returning with three precious eggs. The journey was later recounted in a journal telling called ‘The Worst Journey in the World.’
Wilson recovered, and three months later, set off with Scott and three colleagues on their attempt to reach the South Pole.
The 79-day journey tested the men to their limits and they arrived to find they had been beaten to the prize by Norwegian explorer Road Amundsen.
They had no choice but to turn round and go home empty-handed. It proved a desperate affair with terrible weather conditions and bad planning hampering their progress.
One man died of head injuries after falling into a crevasse while another with feet crippled by gangrene left the tent in the middle of a blizzard and never returned. It was later believed Captain Lawrence Oates had sacrificed himself so as not to slow the party down.
The three remaining men struggled on for another three days through constant blizzards before pitching their tent 11 miles short of One Ton Depot with its promise of food, fuel, additional clothing and medical supplies.
However, the men were too weak to continue and died on or soon after 29 March, 1912, which was the last entry in Scott’s diary.
Their frozen bodies were discovered the following spring by a search party and a stone cairn built in their memory.
Scott was found partially out of his sleeping bag, his arm extended across his friend Edward Wilson, as if comforting him in death.