Not transferable: the unused ticket of Captain R.F. Scott

There is something profoundly sad about the rail ticket I recently discovered in Auckland Museum’s collection of ephemera. Many of us like to keep tickets to remind us of significant or memorable events or journeys. However, this ticket is unused and the reason it has found its way into our collections is more poignant than most.

It was a free New Zealand Railways First Class ticket, Not Transferable. Issued on 23 March 1912 and to be used by 30 April 1912, it was for a journey from Lyttelton to Christchurch, but the man for whom it was issued, Captain R.F. Scott, of course never made it.

Sunday 10 February 2013 marks 100 years since the world first heard about the deaths of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and the men in his polar party, Henry Robertson Bowers, Edgar Evans, Lawrence Edward Grace Oates, and Edward Adrian Wilson.

Captain Scott and his party left Lyttelton for Antarctica on 29 November 1910 aboard the Terra Nova, a former whaling ship which also gave its name to Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition. Apart from attempting to become the first men to reach the South Pole, they aimed to carry out a large amount of scientific work.

Based on Scott’s, and also Shackleton’s, earlier Antarctic experiences the Terra Nova Expedition was always planned to be a multi-season venture. Scientific bases would be established and depots would be laid during the first season with the actual polar journey not beginning until the following spring (late1911).

After staying for most of the Antarctic summer, the Terra Nova sailed for New Zealand in February 1911. It would not return until the beginning of February 1912. This was to resupply the bases, but judging by the dates on the rail ticket, it was also to bring back the men to New Zealand if the conquest of the South Pole was successful.

However, as we now know things did not go to plan. I won’t repeat the details of what happened as Wikipedia or the excellent Antarctic Heritage Trust website, amongst others, do a terrific job. It is enough to say that Scott, and many of the other expedition members were not on the Terra Nova when it again sailed for New Zealand.

The ticket I found was pinned together with a number of others. Some were first class tickets and some were second class. They were between 2 folded blue pages, one headed ‘Captain, Officers & Scientific Staff of R.S.Y. “Terra Nova”, the other ‘Crew of R.S.Y. “Terra Nova”. The first page contains the list of those to whom first class rail passes had been issued; the other page lists those who were consigned to second class travel.

Those members of the Terra Nova Expedition who returned in early 1912 have a tick against their names; those who did not, have been crossed off. And as we now know the latter were those who died – Scott, Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Evans – as well as those who were trapped for a further winter.

The tickets came to Auckland Museum as part of the scrap book of Sir Joseph James Kinsey, donated by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1962. Born in 1852 in Kent, England, Sir Joseph was educated at the Royal Naval School, Greenwich. After nine years as Master at Dulwich College, he emigrated to New Zealand where, apart from becoming Consul for Belgium in Canterbury, Nelson, Marlborough and Westland, he established the shipping firm Kinsey, Barns & Co and gained a knighthood in 1919.

Sir Joseph had a great interest in Antarctic exploration and his firm became the New Zealand headquarters for expeditions to that continent – especially the 1901-1904 Discovery expedition and 1910-1913 Terra Nova expedition of Captain Scott and the 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition of Sir Ernest Shackleton.

It was presumably Kinsey, or more likely, an underling from his firm, who arranged the rail tickets in expectation of the return of the Terra Nova after its second voyage to the ice.

On December 14, 1912 the Terra Nova went back to the Antarctic and great secrecy surrounded her third and final return from the ice. She was not expected until sometime in March 1913, and when she arrived off Oamaru on 10 February she was at first mistaken for another vessel. She would not identify herself and nor would the two men who rowed ashore, and who later travelled by rail to Lyttelton. Speculation was rife that it was “supposed to be Captain Scott and one of his officers”.

However, they were Dr Edward Atkinson and Lieutenant Harry Pennell who were sworn to secrecy until the news of the tragedy had first been telegraphed to Joseph Kinsey and thence to London.

The rail tickets and Kinsey’s scrapbook are held in the manuscript collection in Auckland Museum’s library. As well as photographs of the 1910-1912 British Antarctic Expedition given to Kinsey there are other memorabilia such as sponsors’ letters. Please contact the librarian if you would like more information.

You may also like to read about:

Oamaru and the organised events that will commemorate the arrival there of the Terra Nova 100 years ago.

The story  of the Terra Nova’s arrival at Oamaru

The first report in column 7 on p.7 of The Press of 11 February, 1913, still speculating on the return of Captain Scott.

One of the first reports, after the news of Scott’s death was out, in the evening broadsheet Auckland Star of 11 February, 1913.


Anne Strathie

March 28th, 2014 at 12:11 am    

I enjoyed reading this post as I found these tickets when I visited the museum in 2011 when I was researching for my biography of Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, who also died with Scott. Like you, I found it very poignant to see the tickets for the 5 men who died, knowing that they had not used them that year and that when the ship returned it would bring the news that they had died. I also found it interesting the distinction between first and second class travel(although I suspect a club/tourist class air travel policy still operates in most organisations!). Thanks for a really interesting post which brought back memories of my early research visit to New Zealand and (from there) to Antarctica.
Anne Strathie

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