John Charles Dollman RWS RI ROI (1851-1934)
'A Very Gallant Gentleman' - Captain Lawrence Oates
pen, ink and watercolour heightened with white
59 x 99cm
Provenance: John Charles Dollman was born in Hove, Sussex, on 6th May 1851; his family were booksellers there. He lived at Hove House, Ditchling, where he painted many of his South Downs Landscape works.
The present painting was given to the Thompson family, Beacon House, Ditchling Beacon, Underhill Lane, Sussex, by Ruth Dollman (Mrs Maurice Webb), Dollman's daughter, who lived in Ditchling until her death aged 90 in 1965.
This is the original sketch by Dollman for his finished painting which hangs in the Cavalry Club, London. In the present sketch Captain Oates, as he walked to his death, has poles, and in the painting widely seen he just has mittens. The painting was commissioned by Officers of the Inniskilling Dragoons in 1913, and was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1914. A smaller preparatory sketch is in the Scott Polar Research Institute, at the University of Cambridge.
Lawrence Edward Grace 'Titus' Oates (1880-1912) is remembered as a member of the ill-fated expedition to the South Pole, led by Captain Scott. In order to ensure that his colleagues had a better chance of survival when he found himself incapacitated by frostbite and gangrene, Oates deliberately walked out of his tent into a blizzard, having uttered the celebrated words: ' I am just going out and I may be some time.'
Oates was born in Putney to a well-to-do family; his uncle Frank Oates was a naturalist and explorer. Oates attended both Wellington School and then Eton, subsequently obtaining an army commission. He saw active service in the Boer War, during the course of which he sustained a shattered thigh bone and was recommended for the Victoria Cross. In 1906 Oates was promoted to the rank of captain and became known by the soubriquet of 'Titus' after the seventeenth century priest of the same surname. Following tours of duty in Ireland, Egypt and India, Oates volunteered for Scott's Antarctic expedition of November 1911. Oates came with glowing army references and was described as 'a man of fine physique, full of pluck, energy and spirit.'
Oates was accepted mainly on the strength of his experience with horses - his role was to look after the 19 ponies that Scott intended to use for sledge hauling during the initial food depot-laying stage and the first half of the trip to the South Pole. Scott eventually selected him as one of the five-man party who would travel the final distance to the Pole
The outgoing journey of 895 miles across Antarctica through the snow and ice took 79 days. Finally reaching the South Pole on 18th January 1912, the party was disappointed to discover that it had been forestalled by the rival Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen 35 days earlier. 'We are not a very happy party tonight' reported Oates. 'Scott is taking his defeat better than I expected.'
'Now for the run home and a desperate struggle', recorded Scott, 'I wonder if we can do it.' Plagued by frostbite and inclement weather, with temperatures dropping as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius, the little group struggled on painfully. 'Titus's toes are blackening and his nose and cheeks are dead yellow,' noted a companion. By 6th March, the harsh conditions, compounded by malnutrition, had taken their inexorable toll. Scott noted, 'Poor Oates is unable to pull. He sits on the sledge when we are track searching - he is wonderfully plucky, his feet must be giving him great pain ... '
On 15th March, Oates said he could go no further. By this point, with advanced frostbite on his hands and feet, it would take him two hours just to put on his footwear. He suggested to the others that they left him in his sleeping bag which they refused to do and urged him to struggle on. Realising his existence was proving a liability to his companions, that night Oates walked out of the tent into a blizzard. Scott recorded in his diary: 'We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman.'
The remaining trio struggled on for another 20 miles where their frozen bodies were eventually discovered by a search party on 12th November 1912. Oates's body was never found. A cairn and inscribed cross were erected by the search party near to where he was presumed to have died.
Oates's reindeer-skin sleeping bag was recovered and is now at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. There is an Oates Museum at Gilbert White's House, Selborne, Hampshire. The Royal Dragoon Guards, the successor to the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, have a regimental day to remember Oates, and in 1913 his brother officers erected a brass memorial plaque to him in the parish church of St Mary the Virgin in Gestingthorpe, Essex, which his mother, Caroline, faithfully polished weekly for the rest of her life. The church is opposite his family home of Gestingthorpe Hall.
For further information, see Sue Limb and Patrick Cordingley, 'Captain Oates, Soldier and Explorer', published by B T Batsford, 1982.
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Sold for £26,000
39in Long 23in High. Tape on reverse is restorer's tape, easily removed, for strength in frame.
Picture sturdy and under non-reflective glass. Colours very good as was kept in a drawer. On four sheets of paper.
On reverse (unseen as backboard now) - in script 'Original design for Captain Oates' picture'
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Auction: Fine Interiors - Two Day Sale - Live Online, Wed, 23rd Sep 2020
Sworders’ September Fine Interiors Sale comprises over eight hundred lots of furniture, paintings, works of art and silver, to include the Principal Contents of an East-Anglian Country Estate, the Trevor Barton Collection of Pipes, and an assortment of fine French furniture, objets d’art and clocks. Be sure to follow Sworders Fine Interiors on Instagram for sneak previews, highlights and interior design inspiration!
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