One of the revered figures of what has come to be known as the Heroic age of Antarctic exploration (1895-1917) is Lawrence “Titus” Oates, a 32 year-old cavalryman and veteran of the Boer war who joined the famed Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his doomed expedition to the Antarctic.
Oates came to dislike Scott intensely, considering him a poor leader and blunderer; in spite of this, both men eventually numbered among the 5-man party that attempted the final, glorious push to the South Pole. But their hopes of being the first men to reach it were dashed on January 18th 1912, when they discovered that Norwegian explorer Amundsen had beaten them to the objective by a whole 35 days.
On the way back from the Pole, the British party faced numerous obstacles : dwindling supplies, injuries and bad weather; their situation soon grew perilous.
On the morning march 16th 1912, badly frostbitten and weakened by scurvy, Oates refused to jeopardize the lives of his companions any longer; he uttered the now famous words : “I am just going outside and may be some time.” Scott’s diary records that Oates then left the tent and vanished in the blizzard outside, never to be seen again. His sacrifice, along with Scott’s last diary entries, went a long way towards establishing the myth of the heroic Englishmen explorers; closer scrutiny of the events leading up to the disaster later revealed Scott’s many shortcomings as expedition leader.
More stunning, perhaps, are the allegations of biographer Michael Smith, who unearthed written testimony suggesting that dashing officer Oates fathered a child with an 11 year-old Scottish girl named Ettie McKendrick years before his departure for the Antarctic (!!).
Though not yet substantiated by DNA analysis, the findings have been deemed credible by several historians.
One of the supposed descendants of Oates is quoted as saying : “It rather takes the gilt off the gingerbread.”