Polar exploration is dangerous… but trudging hundreds of miles in subzero temperatures isn’t made any easier if you’re suffering from scurvy. The deadly vitamin deficiency destroys the body and will of even the strongest and most determined adventurer – and it seems that scurvy stuck down the ill-fated expedition of Captain Scott.
But scurvy… in 1912? Hadn’t the Royal Navy to which Scott belonged famously cracked the problem of scurvy a century before, with a daily dose of lime juice? How did the ‘Limeys’ seemingly unlearn that lesson?
Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.
The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.
Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morano, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.
Further reading and listening
Stephen Bown The Last Viking
Alfred Bollet Plagues and Poxes
David Crane Scott of the Antarctic
Apsley Cherry-Garrard The Worst Journey in the World
Malcolm Gladwell David and Goliath
Ranulph Fiennes Captain Scott
Roland Huntford The Last Place on Earth
Edward Larson An Empire of Ice
Diana Preston A First Rate Tragedy
Robert Scott The Voyage of the Discovery
Kristin Asdal, Contesting the Animal Model: Axel Holst and the Controversy over Scurvy and Beriberi, Social History of Medicine, Volume 27, Issue 3, August 2014, Pages 577–593, https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hku007
Butler AR. The role of scurvy in Scott’s return from the South Pole. J R Coll Physicians Edinb. 2013;43(2):175-81. doi: 10.4997/JRCPE.2013.217. PMID: 23734365
Maciej Cegłowski “Scott and Scurvy” Idlewords 6 March 2010
LUND CC, CRANDON JH. HUMAN EXPERIMENTAL SCURVY: AND THE RELATION OF VITAMIN C DEFICIENCY TO POSTOPERATIVE PNEUMONIA AND TO WOUND HEALING. JAMA. 1941;116(8):663–668. doi:10.1001/jama.1941.02820080003002
Jeremy Hugh Baron “Sailors’ scurvy before and after James Lind – a reassessment” Nutrition Reviews Vol. 67(6):315–332 315 doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00205.x
Koettlitz, “The British Antarctic Expedition” British Medical Journal 8 Feb 1902
“Captain Roald Amundsen and the Society” The Geographical Journal Dec 1927 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1782920