He is one of Wales’ greatest explorers – but few remember his name and there is no national monument in his honour.
There is a story behind why Wales may have tried to forget Edgar Evans – but it concerns a sense of misplaced shame.
ITV Wales’ Wales This Week has turned the clock back 100 years, to 1912, when Evans stood at the South Pole with Captain Robert Scott.
Scott’s party was defeated first by the Norwegians and then by a terrible Antarctic winter which came in early and closed over them like a shroud.
Evans was the first of the five men to die. He was malnourished and a cut in his hand was festering.
On February 17, 1912, his exhausted body gave up.
The second to die, Captain Oates, had a leg wound which had turned gangrenous. His leg needed amputating. He crawled from the expedition tent in a blizzard around March 17th and was not seen again.
The remaining three – Scott, himself, Bowers and Wilson – died about 10 days later.
It took a year for the news of their deaths to reach Britain.
“People were initially very sad, then proud but then they had to try and find an explanation,” Dr Isobel Williams, author of a new biography on Edgar, called ‘Captain Scott’s Invaluable Assistant’, tells us.
“In some newspapers they focused on Edgar as not only failing and slowing them down but by his failure and slowing the party he caused the death of all the expedition.”
The men had left Britain in 1910, sailing from Cardiff on board the Terra Nova with South Wales’ coal lighting its boiler.
Two nights before they left, the crew had celebrated at the Royal Hotel in St Mary Street. A century later the Captain Scott Society still meets there. Its chairman, Dr Peter Lloyd Jones, says Wales contributed about half of the funds needed for the expedition.
But when news reached Britain of the men’s deaths, some began to feel a little ashamed of Evans.
Says Edgar’s grandson, John Evans, from Swansea: “I think it was based on snobbery a bit because they made him the scapegoat in the beginning.”
John is leading the campaign for a national memorial to Evans, who is described in the programme as “Wales’ leading Antarctic explorer”.
Evans had been on not only the mission to the South Pole but Scott’s 1901-1904 Discovery expedition which had helped prove Antarctica was a continent and not a massive pack of ice.
Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica, according to Tom Sharpe, curator of a new Terra Nova exhibition at the National Museum of Wales, “laid the foundations” of Antarctic science for a century to come.
And Roger Gale of Swansea Museum, where there is currently an exhibition dedicated to Evans, says: “Had Swansea had an astronaut who reached the moon and perished in the attempt I’m pretty sure there would be a commemoration of him. Edgar in his own way and his own time was journeying to the outer reaches of the world as we knew it.”
*There are currently two museum exhibitions in honour of the Terra Nova expedition in Wales. ‘South for Science’ runs at the National Museum of Wales until May 13.
‘Ninety Degrees South – Edgar Evans, Scott and the Journey to the Pole’ is at Swansea Museum until April 22.
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