Laurence Oates – Brave Explorer

Day 313 of Colourisation Project – March 16

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Somewhere in the South Pole at the bottom of the world lies a pile of stones and a cross bearing the inscription; “Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L. E. G. Oates, of the Inniskilling Dragoons. In March 1912, returning from the Pole, he walked willingly to his death in a blizzard, to try and save his comrades, beset by hardships.”

Robert Scott, leader of the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to the South Pole, wrote in his diary, that Captain Lawrence ‘Titus’ Oates‘ last words were, “I am just going outside and may be some time.”

That was on this day, March 16, 1912, one day before Oates’ 32nd birthday.

Lawrence Oates

Photographer: Herbert Ponting ~ Lawrence Oates 1911 ~ Coloured by Loredana Crupi

The day before, Oates had told his companions that he could not go on and suggested that they leave him in his sleeping-bag. They refused to comply with his wishes and Oates managed a few more miles that day but his condition worsened during night.

Suffering from gangrene and frostbite to his feet, Oates in an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, aware that his poor condition was impacting on the survival chances of his team members, chose certain death when he walked from his tent into a blizzard and −40 °C temperatures.

Scott noted in his diary, “We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.

Sadly the rest of the team never made it home either.  Though they continued on another  20 miles (32 km), adverse weather trapped them in their tent. Too weak and malnourished to continue, they eventually died nine days later, only eleven miles short of their objective. Eight months later their frozen bodies were discovered by a search party, however Oates’ body was never found.

Scott and his weary team arrived at the South Pole on 18 January 1912, 79 days after starting their journey, only to discover that Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen and his four-man team had beaten them to it. Inside Amundsen’s tent they found a note from  Amundsen informing them that his party had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911, beating Scott’s party by 35 days.

Their return trip home was to prove more costly.


“Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman.  These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”   Robert Falcon Scott ~  one of his last diary entries.

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