Rss discovery

For the 1929 research vessel, see RRS Discovery II. For the 1962 research vessel, see RRS Discovery (1962).
Career (UK)
Name: RRS Discovery
Owner: Dundee Heritage Trust since 1985
Builder: Dundee Shipbuilders Company, Dundee
Laid down: 1900
Launched: 21 March 1901[1]
Christened: Lady Markham
Status: Museum ship in Dundee, Scotland
General characteristics
Class & type: Wooden Barque; 1 funnel, 3 masts
Tonnage: 736 GRT[2]
Displacement: 1,570 tonnes[3]
Length: 172 ft (52 m)
Beam: 33 ft (10 m)
Propulsion: Coal fired steam engine and sail
Speed: 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph)
Crew: 11 officers and 36 men

RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, she was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Her first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. She is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in her home, Dundee.


On 16 March 1900, in the context of significant donations to the approaching expedition by patrons Llewellyn W. Longstaff and the British Government, 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 Sir Clements Markham, President of the Royal Geographical Society.[4]

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 ship had a massively built wooden hull 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. The Discovery rolled badly in the open sea where the flat shallow hull, built with no protuberances to work well in ice, provided minimal stability in heavy seas. The hull was made from five different types of wood to better withstand the compression of the icepack. The keel was made from the trunk of a single eucalyptus tree. Ballast in the hull was created from old iron cannon balls.[5] Ship was rigged for scientific studies. The metallic parts of the forward part of the ship were made from bronze (non-magnetic) to include the crew bed rails and anchor links.[6]

British National Antarctic Expedition

Main article: Discovery Expedition

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. The ship would remain there, locked in ice, for the next two years; the expedition had expected to spend the winter there and to 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 use of controlled explosives which allowed the ice to be moved away by butting and shunting, thus assisting in the breakup of the ice. RRS Discovery finally sailed for home, arriving back at Spithead on 10 September 1904.

Cargo vessel

The British 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. One of the masts was removed during her days as a cargo vessel with the Hudson's Bay Company to make room for more cargo.[7] In 1916, she was loaned to the British Government to rescue Shackleton's party marooned on Elephant Island, but they were rescued before she arrived. 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.

Discovery Investigations

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 Stanley in the Falklands and designated as a Royal Research Ship, Discovery underwent a £114,000 refit. In October 1925 she sailed for the South Seas to chart the migration patterns of whale stocks, as part of the Discovery Investigations, with the zoologist Sir Alister Hardy on board. Her research role continued when the British Government lent her to BANZARE, the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition. She served in this duty from 1929 until 1931.

Boy Scouts/Sea Cadet Corps

Returning to Britain, her research days now over, Discovery was laid up until 1936 when she was presented to the . During this time, she remained the home and training ship of the Westminster Sea Cadet Corps. She reverted to the Royal Research Ship (RRS) designation and was open to the public as a museum. The sea cadet unit eventually relocated to on-shore premises in Pimlico situated in the converted basement of a local council estate. The Maritime Trust spent some £500,000 on essential restoration until she was passed into the ownership of the Dundee Heritage Trust in 1985.

Discovery Point, Dundee

On 28 March 1986, Discovery left London aboard the cargo ship Happy Mariner to make her journey home to the city that built her. She arrived 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. She is displayed in a purpose-built dock, in a configuration as near as possible to her 1924 state, when she was refitted in the Vosper yard at Portsmouth. She is listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection. Discovery Point is a fully accredited museum and has won numerous national awards,[9] as well as being a 5 star rated tourist attraction with Visit Scotland. In 2008, RRS Discovery and the associated polar collections were named as a Recognised Collection of National Significance.

Since the 1990s, the Discovery Point museum has concentrated on interpreting the vessel on all of her voyages, with personal items from the ship's crew as well as information on her scientific activities. Items range from the games played by the crew on her first expedition to examples of sea fauna. Star objects on display including Captain Scott's rifle and pipe. Her three main voyages, the National Antarctic Expedition (1901–1904), the Discovery Oceanographic Expedition (1925–1927) and the BANZARE expedition (1929–31), are all explored in the museum through film and photographic evidence with artefacts from each era represented. The museum also holds other pieces from Scott's subsequent Terra Nova expedition and Shackleton's Endurance expedition.

Dundee markets itself with the strap-line One City, Many Discoveries, in honour of Discovery, the research work of the two universities in the city, the Ninewells teaching hospital and the other creative activities and innovation that take place in this vibrant city.[10]

The ship also features on the crest of the coat of arms of the British Antarctic Territory.[11]

Subsequent ships

There have been two subsequent royal research ships named Discovery, RRS Discovery II (1929) and the third RRS Discovery (1969). A fourth ship is the current RRS Discovery, which was built in 2013.[12][13]

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 Space Shuttle Discovery is named for RRS Discovery.


External links

  • Discovery Point Antarctic Museum


Coordinates: 56°27′25″N 2°58′0″W / 56.45694°N 2.96667°W / 56.45694; -2.96667

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