On 16 March 1900,
construction on the Discovery began in Dundee, Scotland, by the
Dundee Shipbuilders Company. She was launched into the Firth of
Tay on 21 March 1901 by Lady Markham, the wife of Clements
Discovery had coal-fired auxiliary steam engines, but had to
rely primarily on sail because the coal bunkers did not have
sufficient capacity to take the ship on long voyages. She was
rigged as a barque. According to Shackleton, the ship was a bad
sailer, and carried too much sail aft and not enough forward;
while Scott worried that the design of the ship's hull was
unsuitable for work in pack ice.
The Mission begins
Five months after setting sail on 6 August 1901 from the Isle of
Wight, she sighted the Antarctic coastline on 8 January 1902.
During the first month Scott began charting the coastline. Then,
in preparation for the winter, he weighed anchor in McMurdo
Sound. Unfortunately, this was where the ship would remain,
locked in ice, for the next two years; the Expedition had
expected to spend the Winter there and move on in the Spring.
Despite this, the Expedition was able to determine that
Antarctica was indeed a continent, and they were able to
relocate the Southern Magnetic Pole. Scott, Shackleton and
Edward Wilson also achieved a Furthest South of 82 degrees 18
minutes. The ship was eventually freed on 16 February 1904, by
the natural break up of the ice followed by the use of
controlled explosives. RRS Discovery finally sailed for home,
arriving back at Spithead on 10 September 1904.
The National Antarctic Expedition was acclaimed upon its return
but was also in serious financial trouble, and so in 1905,
Discovery was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company, who used her as
a cargo vessel between London and Hudson Bay, Canada until the
First World War, when she began carrying munitions to Russia.
Later, in 1917, she carried supplies to the White Russians
during the Russian Civil War. At the end of the hostilities
Discovery was chartered by various companies for work in the
Atlantic, but outdated and outclassed by more modern merchant
vessels she was soon laid up, spending the early 1920s as the
headquarters of the 16th Stepney Sea Scouts.
In 1923 her fortunes were revived when the Crown Agents for the
Colonies purchased her for further research work in the
Antarctic. Re-registered to Port Stanley in the Falklands and
designated as a Royal Research Ship, Discovery underwent a
£114,000 refit before sailing in October 1925 for the South Seas
to chart the migration patterns of whale stocks. Her research
role continued when the British Government lent her to the
British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research
Expedition. She served in this duty from 1929 until 1931.
Returning to Britain, her research days now over, Discovery was
laid up until 1936 when she was presented to the Boy Scouts
Association as a training ship for Sea Scouts. During the war
her engines and boilers were removed for scrap to help with the
war effort. Too costly for the Scouts Association to maintain
she was transferred to the Admiralty in 1955 for use as a drill
ship for the Royal Navy Auxiliary Reserve. As the years passed
her condition deteriorated and when no longer of use to the
Navy, she was in danger of being scrapped. Saved from the
breakers yard by the Maritime Trust, into whose care she passed
in 1979, her future had been secured. Berthed on the River
Thames and open to the public, the trust spent some £500,000 on
essential restoration until she was passed into the ownership of
the Dundee Heritage Trust in 1985.
RRS Discovery, in Dundee.On 28 March 1986 Discovery left London
aboard the cargo ship Happy Mariner to make her journey home to
the town that built her, arriving on the River Tay on 3 April to
a tumultuous welcome. Moved to a custom built dock in 1992,
Discovery is now the centrepiece of Dundee's visitor attraction
Discovery Point. The city also markets itself as The City of
Discovery, in honour of RRS Discovery and the pioneering work in
the field of medicine carried out at the University of Dundee
and the Ninewells teaching hospital.
A New Generation is Born
RRS Discovery II which herself was built in 1929.
The spaceship Discovery One in Arthur C. Clarke's book 2001:A
Space Odyssey was named by Clarke after RRS Discovery; Clarke
used to eat his lunch aboard her, as she was moored near the
office where he worked in London. According to Clarke, he was
unaware that RRS Discovery was launched in 1901, so the fact
that she was celebrating her centenary in the year of his book
is a coincidence.
The modern Royal Research Ship Discovery, built in 1962, was
until 2006, the largest general purpose oceanographic research
vessel in use in the United Kingdom. She now operates out of the
National Oceanography Centre, Southampton alongside the larger
RRS James Cook as part of a fleet maintained by the Natural
Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Ship Unit (RSU).
Measuring 90 metres in length, and fitted with a broad range of
oceanographic equipment, Discovery can also accommodate
containerised laboratories, with berths available for 28
scientific staff, and has the ability to spend up to 45 days at
sea. Her last major overhaul was in 1992, when a new
superstructure and power plant were installed and her hull
lengthened by 10 metres.
I was viewing RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, built to take
Captain Scott to Antarctica in 1901. She was at the time the
first ship ever built in Britain specially for a scientific
expedition. She cost £50,000 of the total budget of £92,000 for
Discovery Point, the present mooring of RRS Discovery, is one of
the main attractions in Dundee. This research ship was built
utilising the city’s experience in building whalers for Arctic
and Antarctic whaling voyages. She left Dundee on July 31st 1901
bound for Antarctica. Now a pavilion containing displays and
special effects brings the voyages of Discovery alive before
climaxing with a tour of the ship.
The ship’s massively built wooden hull designed to withstand
crushing by ice offered greater strength than steel construction
and could flex to resist damage. Hoisting the propeller and
rudder into the hull preserved them from the bruising, crushing
force of ice. Raked iron shod bows riding up over the ice could
break through it using the dead weight of the ship.
In the English Channel Scott considered the ship sluggish, short
masted and under-canvassed. These characteristics become virtues
in the Roaring Forties down in the southern oceans. She could
sail through gales with canvas aloft that would have stripped
the sails and masts from more conventional ships.
After explorations along the coast of Antarctica, the Discovery
wintered in the protected waters of McMurdo Sound. Frozen in,
she remained there over the next two years until February 1904.
A supply ship, the Morning, brought provisions.
As well as an extensive scientific programme, the expedition
aimed to reach the South Pole. A party of Scott, Shackleton and
Wilson on December 31st 1902 travelled 300 miles farther south
than any previous group. The effects of scurvy and a lack of
food forced them to turn back 480 miles from the Pole. It took
them over a month to reach their base - as Scott put it "We are
as near spent as three persons can be." They had been gone for
93 days and had covered 960 miles.
The "Morning" returned in 1904 this time with the "Terra Nova"
and orders from the UK government for the expedition to return.
The Discovery had 20 miles of ice between it and open water and
seemed permanently locked in. Hard work with explosives, the
wind shifting in the right direction and the two relief ships
breaking their way through the remaining ice sprung Discovery
out of the jaws of the trap. The Discovery arrived in Portsmouth
on September the 10th 1904 carrying many specimens never seen
Discovery Point is well worth a visit.