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SCOTT'S BRITISH NATIONAL ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION, 1901-1904
'In deciding to build a vessel for the purposes of the expedition the Ship Committee made a new departure, for the 'Discovery' was the first vessel ever built in England (sic) for scientific exploration.' R.F. Scott, The Voyage of the 'Discovery'.
The Admiralty Chief Constructor, Mr. W.E. Smith, submitted plans for Scott's ship to Sir Clements Markham in April 1899. A tender from Dundee Shipbuilders Company, one of just two submitted, was accepted by Markham on 14 December and the Keel was laid down the following March. She would be named 'Discovery' in June 1900, following a line of famous exploring vessels of this name, and taking her most immediate inspiration from the Discovery of Nares' Arctic expedition of 1875: 'As a starting point,' wrote Smith, 'the drawings of the old Discovery, that went into the Arctic Regions in 1875-76...were considered, and it was, as a first measure, directed that the new vessel should be built of wood and should follow as closely as possible on the general lines of the old Discovery as regards dimensions, lines, sail area, etc., leaving special features as regards strengthening, details of accommodation, etc., to be improved upon as might prove practicable.' The lines of the old Discovery were to be copied because she was thought to be the ultimate development of the nineteenth-century steam whalers of Dundee, whose overhanging stem enabled her to force a passage more easily through pack-ice. 'On account of the great success of the Fram,' continued Mr. Smith, 'it came under consideration whether it would not be well for the new vessel to have a midship section shaped as in that vessel, of a pronounced "peg-top" character, so as to promote lifting out of danger when exposed to a heavy crushing pressure of ice, but after full consideration, it was decided that, having regard to the many thousands of miles of tempestuous seas the new vessel would have to traverse both outwards and homewards, it would be better to have an ordinary ship-shaped section, as being more conducive to general goodness of behaviour under trying sea-going conditions.' (A. Savours, The Voyages of the Discovery, London, 1992, pp.14-15, quoting from W.E. Smith's 'The design of the Antarctic exploration vessel Discovery' in Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects, xlvii, I, 1905, pp.3-4.)
Barque-rigged and with engines designed by Engineer Commander P. Marrack, RN, manufactured by Messrs Gourlay in Dundee, Discovery would have a length of 172 feet and breadth of 34 feet, displacing 1,620 tons and with a registered tonnage of 485. Her particular features, for ice work, included a rudder and screw which could be detached and lifted up through the deck at the stern, a massively reinforced bow whose stem was made up of blocks of scarfed wood, bolted and protected with steel plates and heavily lined sides: 'The frames, which were placed very close together, were eleven inches thick and of solid English oak; inside the frames came the inner lining, a solid planking four inches thick; whilst the outside was covered with two layers of planking, respectively six and five inches thick, so that, in most places, to bore a hole in the side one would have to get through twenty-six inches of solid wood...All this went to give the ship a frame capable of resisting immense side strains, but, strong as she was in this respect, the rigid stiffness of the sides was as nothing to that of the bows.' (R.F. Scott, The Voyage of the 'Discovery', London, 1907 ed., I, p.38.)
She was named and launched by Lady Markham on 21 March 1901: 'The bottle of wine was smashed against her bows, there was a pause of two minutes and then the good ship 'Discovery' glided into the sea - a beautiful sight - amidst tremendous cheers: the strongest ship ever launched, and the first built specially for exploring work, in this country.' (Sir Clements Markham's diary, RGS Archives, CRM 1/14.)
After engines and boilers were fitted, she sailed from Dundee on 3 June, arriving in East India Dock on the Thames three days later. After hurried stocking of the ship she sailed from London Docks at the end of July, was inspected by the King at Cowes on 5 August and finally slipped from her buoy on her voyage south the following day.
Her performance was disappointing at first, Scott remarking that she 'did not possess a turn of speed under any conditions', and the constructors came in for criticism when she sprang a leak that would dog the entire vogage. Later, in southern seas, her performance improved: 'As time went on we became more and more satisfied with the seaworthy qualities of our small ship; she proved wonderfully stiff, and as her sail area was small, it was rarely, if ever, necessary to shorten the sail even in the most violent gales; she rose like a cork to the mountainous seas that now followed in her wake, and, considering her size, was wonderfully free of water on the upper deck.' (R.F. Scott, op. cit., p.73.)
After caulking, provisioning and re-stowing at Lyttelton, Discovery crossed the Antarctic circle on 3 January 1902. After running along the Great Ice Barrier Discovery eventually found 'a difficult anchorage' at the ice-foot in McMurdo Sound. A hut was erected on the nearby promontory of land but the ship was retained as a shore station throughout the expedition. It had been originally intended that Discovery would do no more than land a shore party and depart before winter closed in, but Scott considered the ship could winter at their anchorage in safety. She was frozen in for two winters from 1902-4. The Morning was unable to relieve the expedition in 1903, to the consternation of the Admiralty, and it was only the remarkable efforts of Colbeck and MacKay in the Morning and the Terra Nova that finally released Discovery from the ice in February 1904.
Discovery was bought by the Hudson's Bay Company in January 1905 and adapted as a merchant vessel, voyaging to Hudson Bay 1905-11 and continuing in general service until the Company granted the ship as temporary headquarters to 16th Stepney Sea Scout Troops in 1922. She was bought by the Crown Agents for the Colonies for scientific research in the South Seas in 1923 and embarked on the Discovery (Oceanographic) Expedition in 1925(-7). She was lent to Mawson's British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) 1929-31, was laid up in London 1931-6, used as a training ship for the Boy Scouts 1936-9, by the Navy in the war, and continued under ownership of the Boy Scouts Association after the war. The Maritime Trust took her over in 1979 when restoration work began, intending to return her approximately to her 1925 arrangements, although her engine and machinery had been taken out for scrap in the war. She was returned to her home city of Dundee in 1986, helping to inspire the regeneration of that 'City of Discovery' in recent years.
The following tracings, linens and blueprints, beginning with Smith's tracing of Nares' Discovery, take us through the development of Scott's ship from its very earliest proposals, through the general arrangements of the linens, to the architect's copies of Discovery's blueprints, Scott's ship 'as fitted'. The present collection includes tracing proposals, linens and blueprints of such key features as the reinforced bow and sides, the lifting rudder and screw. Notations, alterations and approvals on the sheets detail the changes in construction from the first proposals to completion.
Further plans for Scott's Discovery.1901 are held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.
We are grateful to R.G. Todd, Head of the Historic Photographs and Ship Plans Section at the National Maritime Museum for his kind assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.