Edgar Evans was born on 7 March 1876 at Fernhill Top Cottage, Middleton near Rhossili on Gower, the eldest of four children of Charles Evans, mariner, and his wife Sarah (g. Beynon). The family moved to nearby Swansea, where Edgar was educated at the St Helen's Boys School up to the age of 13. He then worked for a short while at the city's Castle Hotel and the Swansea post office, but he sought adventure and in 1891, at the age of 15, he ran away to join the Royal Navy.
Edgar Evans served on a number of vessels including in 1897 on HMS Majestic, where he met Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912) who was serving as a torpedo officer. The two became friends and, when Scott began leading expeditions to the Antarctic, he invited Edgar Evans to join him. Edgar Evans was a member of Scott's first 'Discovery' expedition (named after the ship which took them south) between 1901 and 1904. During that expedition he made seven exploratory trips out of base camp, a figure only exceeded by Scott himself. This included being part of the three man team, led by Scott, on a long sledge journey to the interior of Antarctica to explore Victoria Land.
After this adventure he returned to Britain, where he married Lois Beynon from Rhossili, his mother's niece, in 1904. They lived in Portsmouth, where Evans completed a gunnery instructor's training programme, and had three children, Muriel, Ralph and Norman. But he did not settle for a quiet life. He was still a naval petty officer (first class) and remained eager for adventure. He was invited to join Scott's ill-fated 'Terra Nova' expedition in 1910, and the navy agreed that he could go. The expedition set off from Cardiff docks in June 1910, and much of the support needed for it was raised from businessmen in the city. After a stop in New Zealand, the ship headed on for the Antarctic in November 1910. In early 1911, base camp was established on the shores of Antarctica. Towards the year end in the brief southern summer a five man team, led by Scott, set out to become the first to reach the South Pole. In recognition of his strength and abilities, Edgar Evans was picked as a member of the team. He had responsibility for ensuring the effectiveness of the sledges, tents, sleeping bags and harness.
The team took eleven weeks to walk to the Pole, pulling sledges loaded with tents and supplies. They reached their target on 17 January 1912, only to discover that a Norwegian team led by Roald Amundsen had beaten them to it by five weeks. They set off to return to the shore, but the return journey from the South Pole was very difficult, with terrible weather conditions. Edgar Evans had a number of accidents, including a fall at the Beardmore Glacier which caused a head injury. His physical and mental condition deteriorated as conditions became still worse, and food supplies ran out. He was unable to go with the others to seek supplies left at a collection point. When they returned he was desperately ill and, despite being helped to the cover of a tent, he died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on 17 February 1912. The other expedition members pressed on, but all died of cold and hunger. Edgar Evans's body was never found. His wife and children were awarded £1500 by the Lord Mayor's Committee and a pension of £48 per annum from the Admiralty.
Edgar Evans is commemorated by a plaque at Rhossili Church, and on a plaque at the Scott Memorial lighthouse in Roath Park Lake, Cardiff. Evans Glacier in Victoria Land, Antarctica, is named after him. In September 2014 a plaque to commemorate him was unveiled in Swansea.
Published date: 2021-04-01
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