One hundred years ago today, Charles Seymour “Silas” Wright, an unsung hero of Canadian exploration and science, discovered the body of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who had died after having been beaten to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Wright is one of those fascinating Canadians that we have such a penchant for ignoring.
Born in Toronto in 1887, Wright attended Upper Canada College, studied physics and mathematics at the University of Toronto before moving to Cambridge University where he applied for a position on Capt. Scott’s ill-fated 1910-1913 expedition.
Hired as the expedition’s physicist and glaciologist, Wright explored the snow- and glacier-free McMurdo Sound Dry Valleys, one of which was named for him. His extensive Antarctic field research resulted in his authorship of the first major English-language textbook on glaciology, which influenced generations of scientists.
When it had became obvious that Scott’s South Pole party had met with disaster, Wright joined the search party. On Nov. 12, 1912 it was Wright who located Scott’s tent, which held the frozen remains of Scott, Henry “Birdie” Bowers and Edward Wilson along with photographs and Scott’s diary, one of the greatest documents of exploration, with its haunting words, “Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.”
Wright was just 25 years old when his Antarctic exploits came to an end. He went on to a remarkable career, directing the team involved in the early development of radar, and developing the technology used to detect magnetic anti-shipping mines and torpedoes, which led to a knighthood in 1946. He served as director of scientific research at the Admiralty and chief of the Royal Naval Scientific Service. He later worked at the Royal Canadian Navy’s Pacific Naval Laboratory, Royal Roads Military College and the University of British Columbia. Silas Wright died on Salt Spring Island, B.C. in 1975.
Wright Valley is on the Antarctic map, and this distinguished Canadian scientist belongs on Canada’s map as well. Or at least its radar.