A chilly difference of opinion

A Dover man is the subject of ‘Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon’ an academically acclaimed new book published to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the conquering of the South Pole.

Dr Reginald Koettlitz was a leading surgeon, geologist & botanist who had previous exploration experience ranging from the Arctic with the three year long Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition of 1894, to explorations in north-east Africa & the Amazon. Koettlitz was appointed senior surgeon & botanist during Commander Robert Falcon Scott’s National Antartic Expedition on board the Royal Research Ship Discovery to the southern continent from 1901 to 1904. His experience should have been invaluable to Scott, particularly Koettlitz’ knowledge of how to live off the land to prevent scurvy and to conserve supplies. But it appears that a personality clash or severe difference of opinion mainly surrounding morale, were so strong that the expedition’s surgeon was all but written out of Scott’s expedition records. Koettlitz was a serious minded scientist who could not understand or tolerate the schoolboy sense of humour used by others to maintain morale. Time that could have been used to tap into Koettlitz’ knowledge bank was used to keep spirits high playing football and in general high jinks.

We’ll never know if Scott’s expedition would have been successful should he have engaged Koettlitz for the fateful expedition or if he had at least learned more from the good surgeon, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

More recently & happily, another Kent resident, Felicity Aston from Hildenborough, reached the South Pole shortly before Christmas Day 2011. Felicity is aiming to become the first woman to cross the Antarctic unaided and after a day spent at the Pole resting & re-supplying she is now well on her way to achieving the second leg of her journey. We wish her well.

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