Made in Dundee | Designed for Adventure.
Launched into the River Tay, Dundee on 21st March 1901, the Discovery was the first purpose built research vessel for the polar regions constructed in the UK. Her construction by the Dundee Shipbuilder’s Company had amazingly taken just one year. After her launch she was fitted with engines and boilers by the Dundee engineering firm Gourlay Brothers and her sailcloth was provided by the Baxter Brothers’ Dens Works - a true Dundee ship in all aspects.
Her famous first expedition, which became known as the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904), saw her sail to the largely unknown frozen continent of Antarctica. Her crew consisted of men now forever linked to Antarctic exploration, men such as Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Edward Wilson, Tom Crean and Frank Wild. During this expedition the Discovery survived being surrounded by ice for two years while her crew carried out numerous scientific surveys and charted vast areas of previously unexplored coastine, islands and the Antarctic interior.
Following her returning to the UK, the Discovery was sold to The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in January 1905. Converted to a cargo ship, she sailed return journeys from London to Hudson’s Bay, Canada. Her outward cargo included mail, foodstuffs and gunpowder, returning with furs and on one occasion a live black bear destined for London Zoo.
In 1916, while still owned by HBC, Discovery was loaned to the British government to rescue the men of Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition. On arriving at Montevideo, just four weeks after leaving the UK, the crew of Discovery were informed that Shackleton had succeeded in rescuing his men on the fourth attempt of trying. After loading with cargo she returned to the UK and to the HBC.
During the First World War she was used to transport munitions on behalf of the French Government, calling in at ports such as Archangel, Bordeaux, Halifax, Plymouth, New York and Dundee. At the height of Russian Civil War (1917-1921) she aided the White Army by taking supplies to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk.
In 1923 Discovery was bought by the British Dependency of the Falkland Islands. Following an extensive refit at Vosper’s shipyard in Portsmouth she was ready for the Oceanographic Expedition (1925-1927) which took her to the South Atlantic. The aim was to investigate the life cycles of whales, with a view to providing a scientific basis for regulation of the whaling industry whose zealous over-fishing had drastically reduced the whale population. Recognising the nature of the expedition she became Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery.
Discovery’s final voyage to the Antarctic was on the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, more commonly known as BANZARE (1929-1931). The purposes of the expedition were listed as being threefold: “firstly, political; secondly, economic and commercial; thirdly, scientific”. BANZARE was led by explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, with Discovery’s master being Captain J.K Davis and then Captain K. N MacKenzie for the second summer.
Following BANZARE, Discovery had come to the end of her exploration years and in 1936 the Boy Scout Association became her new owner. She was now used as a training ship for Sea Scouts and for the first time Discovery also became a museum for the general public. By the 1950s the cost of upkeep had become too much and she was sold to the Admiralty to be used as a training or ‘drill’ ship by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; for this role she was redesignated HMS Discovery.
In April 1979 she became RRS Discovery once more when the Maritime Trust took ownership and began repairs and restoration. She spent 7 years open to the public in St Katharine’s Dock as part of their Historic Ship Collection, with displays on board provided by the National Maritime Museum. She remained in London until 1986 when an agreement was reached between Dundee Heritage Trust, the Maritime Trust and the Scottish Development Agency which saw Discovery return home to Dundee. Initially she was berthed in Victoria Dock before making her final move in 1992 to the purpose-built Discovery Point - less than 500 metres from where she was first launched 92 years before.
A visit to Discovery Point allows you to view over 150 historic objects relating to Discovery’s incredible story, as well enjoy over 20 audio visual displays and hands on interactives for all ages. The star attraction is of course the RRS Discovery herself and the opportunity to explore all her deck levels and spend as long as you wish walking in the footsteps of those incredible men of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.