British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904
Barque / 3 masts / / L,B,D 172' x
34' x 15.8' - 52.1m x 10.3m x 4.8m / 485 tons / Hull: wooden / Compliment:
39-43 / Engine: 450 nhp, triple expansion, 1 screw, 8 knots / Built:
Stevens Yard, Dundee Shipbuilders Co. Dundee, Scotland, 1901.
"There's wind in the sky" the
Discovery held up in congested pack ice off MacRobertson Land Antarctica.
The sky is overclouded by the characteristic "Cirrus Radiant" which
precedes a blizzard. larger
The Discovery under sail
Fate after the expedition:
Purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1905
and converted for use as a merchant. Laid up from 1912 - 1915 during
WWI. From 1915 - 1920 traded under charter in European waters from
Archangel in Arctic Russia to the Black Sea.
She was loaned in 1916 to the British Government
to rescue Shackleton's party marooned on Elephant Island, but they
were rescued before she arrived.
Purchased in 1923 by the Crown Agents for the
Colonies for scientific research. From 1925-1927 cruised between
Cape Town, Antarctica and the Drake Passage conducting research
on whaling grounds and oceanography.
In 1929 she was employed by BANZARE, the British,
Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition with Sir
Laid up from 1931-1936 when acquired by the Boy
Scouts Association for use as a stationary training ship and hostel
in London, used by the admiralty through WWII for the same purposes,
engines were scrapped.
Used by Sea Scouts and Royal Naval Reserve from
Transferred to the Maritime Trust and restored
to 1925 appearance, currently on open public display as a museum
in Dundee since 1986.
The Discovery from the bowsprit
use - Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
State Library of Tasmania.
The ship "Discovery"
was built especially for Scott's expedition in 1901 to reach the
South Pole, a wooden sailing ship with auxiliary engines.
The Discovery was itself modeled
on the design of a whale ship also called Discovery (ex
Bloodhound) that had been on an Arctic expedition in the
1870's. The great arctic explorer Nansen had recommended that the
ship be a duplicated design of the Fram.
The Ship Committee of the expedition however decided that a conventional
whaling hull would be more appropriate as the ship would have to
cross the ominous Southern Seas to get to Antarctica.
of her design by Admiral McClintock, Chairman of the Ship
Committee, on 29 November 1899.
Finding a yard to build the
Discovery was not easy as wooden hulls of that size had become
rarities by 1900 when the building of the ship was put out to tender.
She was almost built in Norway but it was decided that a ship for
a British expedition should be built in Britain.
The ship had a massively built wooden
hull that was designed to withstand being frozen into the ice. The
propeller and rudder could be hoisted out of the way to prevent
ice damage. Iron shod bows were severely raked so that when ramming
the ice they would ride up over the margin and crush the ice with
deadweight. She was also at the time the first ship ever built in
Britain specifically for a scientific expedition and cost £50,000
of the total budget of £92,000 for the expedition.
She left the Dundee shipyard where she was built
on July 31st 1901 sailing south to Antarctica.
Undoubtedly strong, the Discovery was flawed
in many ways during her building. Once she reached New Zealand she
was put into dry dock (there was no time for in Britain before her
departure). The ship's carpenter signed a damning report with such
details as numerous empty bolt holes and improperly clenched bolts
being uncovered. Six feet of seawater had seeped into the hold since
leaving Britain. Many harsh exchanges ensued between the Dundee
shipyard and the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in London
- the organizers of the expedition.
Like other ships designed for ice, before and
since, the Discovery rolled terribly at sea. The flat shallow
hull with no protuberances that works so well in ice provides minimal
stability in normal and particularly in heavy seas.
Scott was unimpressed with the ship initially
in the English Channel pronouncing her sluggish, short-masted and
under-canvassed. By the time she had reached the roaring forties,
these same characteristics had become virtues. She could sail through
the worst gales with a considerable amount of canvas aloft in winds
that would have stripped the sails from more conventional ships.
Amongst the crew on this expedition was
Ernest Shackleton engaged as third lieutenant in charge of holds,
stores, provisions and deep sea water analysis.
On reaching Antarctica and after
some initial explorations along the coast, the Discovery
made its way to McMurdo sound where winter quarters were to be established.
She was frozen in for the winter in the protected waters of the
sound in 1902 and remained there over the next nearly two years
until February 1904. A supply ship the Morning, came to bring
supplies in the meantime.
As well as an extensive scientific
programme, one aim of the expedition was to attempt to reach the
South Pole. A party of Scott, Shackleton and Wilson reached 82°17'S
on December 31st 1902 at which point, they turned back due to the
effects of scurvy and a lack of food. They had however traveled
300 miles farther south than anyone before them and were only 480
statute miles from the Pole. It took them just over another month
before they reached their base, as Scott put it "We are as
near spent as three persons can be". They had been gone for
ninety-three days and had covered 960 statute miles.
The "Morning" returned
in 1904 this time accompanied by another ship the "Terra
Nova". The government in England had decided that the Antarctic
party might be having too good a time of it! - relieved once a year
by a hugely expensive
relief ship - and wanted them all brought back
whether or not the Discovery had to be abandoned in the process
(the Morning had reported the previous year that the Discovery
was still frozen in and could only be removed with great difficulty).
For a while it looked
like the Discovery might well be abandoned as there was 20
miles of ice between it and open water. With much hard work, explosives,
the wind eventually in the right direction and finally the two relief
ships breaking their way through the remaining ice - the Discovery
was released and all three ships were under way heading back north.
The Discovery arrived in Portsmouth on September the 10th
Scott had wanted
to use the Discovery again for his second expedition leaving
Britain in 1910, but the admiralty had sold it to the Hudson's Bay
Company some years before, and they refused to sell her back.
After considering several
other ships, Scott purchased the Terra Nova, which had been
used for whaling and sealing since her return from the Discovery
More about Robert Falcon Scott and this expedition
Historical photographs on this page
by permission of National Library of
The Discovery in 2005 in Dundee
where she is currently on
Photo-Val Vannet - creative
commons share and share alike license
Voyage of the Discovery: Scott's First Antarctic Expedition
by Robert Falcon Scott, Ross MacPhee
(Introduction), Fridtjof Nansen (Preface)
Buy from USA
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A summary of the design of the Discovery
The Ship will be 172 feet long, 33 feet extreme beam and will be
1570 tons displacement. She will be built of oak and elm, with an
ice casing of green heart. Though somewhat larger, her general lines
will be similar to those of Discovery. Her bows will be sharp and
overhanging, like Discovery, and they will be special strengthened
for forcing her way through the ice. The thickness of her sides
amidships at the water line, will be 25 inches. The stern and counters
will be so shaped as to afford protection to the screw and rudder,
both of which will be fitted so as to be raised quickly out of the
water. The consumption of coal is approximately, as follows:
|Speed (in knots)
|Tons per diem
|Distance for 240
tons (of coal)
This does not include the amount of coal that will be required for
warming, dredging and sounding purposes. It is possible however,
that some 20 or 30 tons of coal can be stowed elsewhere in the ship,
either on the upper deck, or in unoccupied spaces below. The full
power speed of the ship will be about 8 knots, somewhat in excess
of the speed of [the old] Discovery. In order to fall in with magnetic
requirements, the engine and boilers will be situated aft. The horse
power will be 450, and the ship will stow, in bunkers, 240 tons
of coal. She will be fitted with masts and sails, and barque rigged,
so that fuel can be economised while making a voyage, and advantage
can be taken of favourable winds, even when navigating in the pack.
The Magnetic Observatory, 8 feet by 6 ft. 6 in. will be on the bridge
before the mainmast, and no iron work will be permitted within 30
feet of it. [It was in fact fitted on the upper deck.] For biological
work there will be two houses, properly fitted on deck, and a laboratory
10 ft. by 7 ft. forward on the lower deck. There will be an auxiliary
engine, and special arrangements for sounding to a depth of 4,000
fathoms, and also for dredging up operations. All other details
have been carefully designed for ice navigation, for promoting warmth
and dryness below, and for facilitating scientific investigations.
The cabin accommodation includes a sitting and sleeping cabin for
the captain, one for the navigator with places in it for the chronometers
and with facilities for drawings &c. The other cabins for the
other executive officers, and one for the engineer, and three for
scientific civilians, of whom one, or more, ought to be surgeons,
one to be in medical charge of the ship. Extra cabin space can be
found for two or more scientific civilians, but only by encroaching
on the space now set apart for the health and comfort of the crew.
The Ship Sub-Committee are much indebted to Mr. W. E. Smith for
the skill and ability he has devoted to the design and details of
the ship, and also to Mr. Marrack for his work connected with the
engines and boilers, and the protection of the propeller. They congratulate
themselves on the fact that the plans and designs approved are those
of a vessel which will be, by far, the best adapted for severe weather
and ice navigation, as well as for scientific investigations, that
has ever entered the polar regions. They are of opinion that the
total complement of this vessel should not exceed 48 to 50 souls.