A half-length photogravure portrait of Captain Oates, with two autograph letters from Terra Nova Expedition members Edward L. Atkinson to Francis Davies.
OATES Captain L.E.G. ([c.1913].)
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A POIGNANT GIFT BETWEEN BEREAVED CREW MEMBERS
Sepia tone photogravure. 420 by 340mm. Laid down on board, a few very faint spots to the margin, else in fine condition. n.p., n.d. [With:] ATKINSON (Edward L.). ALS to "Dear Chippie" [Francis Davies], 2pp. London, 15 Queen Anne Street, 22nd December 1913. [And:] ATKINSON (Edward L.). ALS to "Dear Chippie" [Francis Davies], 2pp. London School of Tropical Medicine, Royal Albert Dock, 3rd February 1914.
A stately photogravure print after a portrait of Captain Lawrence Oates (1880-1912), originally taken in Cairo in around 1907 by G. Lekegian & Co. He wears his Inniskilling Dragoon cavalry undress frock coat with epaulettes. The same image was reproduced by Emory Walker in the memorial booklet printed to commemorate Oates' life, however the present impression is significantly enlarged with far clearer definition than the Walker reproduction.
The accompanying letters offer a touching provenance, relating to two bereft members of the Terra Nova crew. Edward L. Atkinson, the Royal Naval surgeon and de-facto leader of the Cape Evans party in Scott's absence, writes to ship's carpenter Francis "Chippie" Davies:
"22nd December 1913
[...] I am having some enlargements done of a portrait I have got of Capt Oates and if you would like that I will send you one and you must accept it for Xmas and the New Year. [...] Mind you let us know when you are coming up to town. I am likely going to China Japan, Formosa and Korea in February on a medical expedition for the Navy. [...]
"3rd Feb 1914
I am sending you today an enlarged photo of Captain Oates and I think you will be pleased with it. Thank you very much for the piece of the Terra Nova you have sent up. [...] Mind you write from time to time and if we are ever at the same depôt we must get together. Do you remember your opinion of the blubber stoves.
In the century since the tragic loss of the Polar Party, the story of Captain Oates' death has grown to mythic proportion in the common consciousness. There are perhaps no final words more quoted than his, and his singular act of self-sacrifice drew such admiration and compassion from the general public, that it was even cited in the 1961 British parliamentary case to decriminalise suicide.
For those who had shared two years of the expedition in close quarters with him, the loss was no doubt an acutely personal one. In spite of his elite upbringing and ranking experience during the Boer War, it was Oates' steadfast nature that truly stood him apart from the other men. "As the only cavalry officer on an expedition staffed primarily by naval men, Oates won respect by his hard work and he grew to be more popular with the seamen than perhaps any other officer" (ODNB).
The loss of Robert Falcon Scott, Birdie Bowers, Edward Wilson, Laurence Oates and Edgar Evans on their return march from the South Pole would have been felt especially keenly by Atkinson. In 1912 in his commanding role at Cape Evans, he was responsible for instigating and leading the search party which found and buried the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson in their tent. He also, crucially, recovered the diaries which told the fates of Oates and Evans.
Furthermore, Atkinson is responsible for Captain Oates' epitaph, inscribed on a cairn and crossed skis near the site of his death: "Hereabouts died a very gallant gentleman, Captain L.E.G. Oates, Inniskilling Dragoons, Who on his return from the South Pole in March 1912, willingly walked to his death in a blizzard to try and save his comrades, beset by hardship." Francis Davies learned of the deaths on 18th January 1913 as the restocked Terra Nova approached the waiting shore party. As carpenter, he went on to construct a large wooden cross which, in a party lead by Dr. Atkinson, they erected on Observation Hill, seven hundred feet above the Great Ice Barrier. The Memorial Cross still stands to this day.
Stock Code: 244588