Scott joined the navy in 1881. He took part in the National Antarctic Expedition which began in 1900 and in the course of which the Ross Sea was explored and "King Edward VII Land" named in honour of the current British monarch. It was while serving in this expedition that Scott encountered his great rival, Ernest Shackleton, with whom he was generally at odds.
Inspired partly by the wish to improve his family's fortunes, Scott became obsessed with the idea of being first to the South Pole, which he saw as an important and necessary achievement for his country. After his marriage to Kathleen Bruce on September 2nd 1908, and the birth in 1909 of his only son, Peter Scott, he embarked on his second polar expedition. His ship, Terra Nova, left London on June 1 1910, sailing via Cardiff, which it left on June 15th. Scott sailed with the ship only as far as Rotherhithe and then returned to London, and departed a month later to join the ship in South Africa.
Scott soon found himself in a race with the Norwegian Roald Amundsen to be first to reach the Pole. On arriving there around January 17-18, 1912, with a five-man party (Scott, Lieutenant Bowers, Dr Wilson, Petty Officer Edgar Evans, Laurence Oates), Scott found that Amundsen had been there a month earlier. Amundsen returned to his base in good order while Scott's entire party perished while returning from the Pole. The first to die was Evans, who was injured in a fall and suffered a swift mental and physical breakdown. A little later, Oates, who had never had the necessary experience for such an ordeal, deteriorated to the extent that he was holding back the rest of the party. Gradually becoming aware of the burden he was placing on the others and the fact that he had no chance of survival, Oates voluntarily left the tent and was never seen again.
The bodies of the remaining three members of Scott's party were found six months later in their camp, only eleven miles from a massive depot of supplies. With them were their diaries detailing their demise. Scott was greatly mourned in England and counted a hero. However, his organisation of the expedition is now generally regarded as having been seriously lacking. His insistence on first using Siberian ponies and then man-hauling his goods instead of using sled dogs is considered to have contributed to his defeat. Scott was reluctant to use dogs because it was common practice, followed by Amundsen, to kill weak dogs and feed them to the others, which Scott found abhorrent. More difficult to understand is the Englishmen's evident distaste for learning from the indigenous peoples of the Arctic - the undoubted experts at cold climate survival - as Amundsen had done. As Scott wrote in his diary, the weather was particularly cold that season, and sledge-hauling correspondingly more difficult than usual, but it is thought that Scott (a professional naval officer) and his party died as much from scurvy as from any other cause.
Scott was posthumously knighted, and a statue of him by his wife, Kathleen, a sculptor, was erected in London, at Waterloo Place. Scott's brother-in-law, the Reverend Lloyd Harvey Bruce, was the rector of the tiny Warwickshire village of Binton, and he commissioned a large stained glass memorial window, showing scenes from Scott's expedition, which still exists to this day in the Parish Church.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is jointly named after him and his rival.