RRS Discovery

Polar Research Ship built 1901 by Dundee Shipbuilders' Company, Dundee

Ensign House flag

39

National Historic Fleet


Research Vessel


Polar Research Ship

Dundee


Museum based

Museum: floating


No

No


25/01/1996

22/07/2016


Web site

www.rrsdiscovery.com

Gallery


Propulsion

Sail

Steam


None

None


Dimensions

To be confirmed

33.80 feet (10.31 metres)


284.00 feet (86.62 metres)

15.74 feet (4.80 metres)


736.00


History

DISCOVERY was built for the National Antarctic Expedition 1901-4 and is one of the last three-masted wooden ships built in this country. She was designed by Sir William Smith with a full hull form and tumblehome and was unique, having a lifting propeller and rudder, but able to be steered and steamed if she lost her Rudder Post. In 1905, she was sold to the Hudson Bay Company who gutted all the accommodation below the Upper Deck, used the laboratories on the Upper Deck for the Officers accommodation with a saloon between them, and a bridge over them, moved the capstan onto the fo’c’sle head, and put the crew in the foc’s’le. In this form she carried supplies to the Trading Post in the Hudson Bay, and brought furs back. In World War One, she carried munitions and food for the French Government, and in 1916 she was refitted in Devonport and went South to pick up Shackleton’s crew of ENDURANCE who were stranded on Elephant Island. She reached Montevideo before hearing of their rescue. In 1922, after two years laid up in the West India Docks, she was bought by Crown Agents and rebuilt for use as the world leading oceanographic survey ship. Based on the Falkland Islands, she carried out The Discovery Investigations - the first research into the life and ecology of the whale. In 1929, she was lent to Sir Douglas Mawson for his two British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions. In this expedition almost a third of the Antarctic coastline was charted for the first time, and many places were named, including Proclamation Island, after members and sponsors of the expedition. Afterwards DISCOVERY was laid up in the West India Docks until she was presented to the Boy Scout Association, and endowed by Lady Houston. She became a memorial to Antarctic heroes, the Headquarters for Sea Scouts, a centre for their training, and an accommodation ship for Scouts or Sea Scouts visiting London. She was berthed on a pier by Temple Tube Station, funded by the Pilgrim Trust. During World War Two, DISCOVERY became the Headquarters of the River Emergency Service. A Barrage Balloon dragged its cable across the Main Course yard, and broke it. When examined, the yard was found to be rotten, so all the yards were sent down for safety, also the boilers, the machinery, the Trawl Winch and the Winch House were cut up and taken to provide scrap steel. To compensate for the loss of weight, shingle was put in the bilges and the propeller trunk. After the war she was handed back to the Sea Scouts. An additional mess deck was built in the Engine Room, and the Boiler Room and Bunkers were used as training spaces. During the “Festival of Britain” an exhibition on Antarctica was mounted in the ship, and she was opened to the public. For this, the fresh water tanks were taken out and replaced with crew accommodation. In 1953 the Royal Navy took her on, stripping out all remaining original accommodation, except the Wardroom. The London Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve used her for extra accommodation for the “Admiral Commanding Reserves”, until 1980, when the shrinking Navy had no further use for her. When they proposed to tow her out and use her for target practice, there was a major outcry. H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh intervened and she was sold to The Maritime Trust. A survey showed that the bottom was sound, though there was rot elsewhere. The Maritime Trust started restoration, opened her to the public as part of the Historic Ship Collection in St. Katherine’s Dock by the Tower of London. New Forest trees made a new set of yards, built to the original drawings, which were crossed in 1983. In 1985, Dundee expressed interest in DISCOVERY and in 1986 she was carried there in a Floating Dock Ship. She was initially chartered and eventually sold to Dundee Industrial Heritage, who built a dock to accommodate her, with a dedicated exhibition building alongside, where she is now on permanent display to the public. Source; Tim Parr, Advisory Committee, March 2009.

This vessel is a survivor from the First World War. You can read more about her wartime history by visiting our First World War: Britain's Surviving Vessels website www.ww1britainssurvivingvessels.org.uk

Significance

1.      What is the vessel’s ability to demonstrate history in her physical fabric?

Evidence for designs, functions, techniques, processes, styles, customs and habits or uses and associations in relation to events and people.  How early, intact or rare these features are may impact on significance.

DISCOVERY was carvel built with a full hull form and slight tumblehome. She was fitted with coal-fired auxiliary reciprocating 3-cylinder 450 hp steam engines made by Gourlays. However, she 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. All the accommodation below the upper deck was gutted in 1905 and the laboratories on the upper deck were used for officers’ accommodation, with a saloon between them and a bridge over them. The capstan was moved onto the fo’c’sle head, and the crew put in the foc’s’le.  After the Second World War an additional mess deck was built in the engine room, and the boiler room and bunkers were used as training spaces. In 1951 the fresh water tanks were taken out and replaced with crew accommodation. In 1953 all remaining original accommodation, except the wardroom, was stripped out. A new set of yards, built to the original drawings, were made from New Forest trees, and crossed in 1983. She was restored to her 1920s configuration in 1986. The 2007-09 Restoration and Conservation Project included remedial conservation work to repair decayed and damaged areas of the hull and decks. The work was designed to open up more of the ship below decks to the public. This included the engine room, the bosun’s cabin and the whole length of the hold areas; these spaces were restored and interpreted. The ship’s temperature and humidity control systems, along with the bilge pumping arrangements, were improved. These measures were designed to aid preventative conservation.

2.      What are the vessel’s associational links for which there is no physical evidence?

Associations with people or places.  Off-ship research.

DISCOVERY is one of the last three-masted wooden ships built in the United Kingdom. She is an outstanding example of a vessel which was built for a very specific purpose, being designed to withstand being frozen into the ice. She was designed by Sir William Smith for the National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04 and is principally associated with that Expedition, Robert Falcon Scott, and with Ernest Shackleton. In 1905 she was sold to the Hudson Bay Company, who used her to carry supplies to the Trading Post in the Hudson Bay, bringing back furs. In the First World War DISCOVERY carried munitions and food for the French Government, and in 1916 she was refitted and went south to pick up Shackleton and the crew of ENDURANCE who were stranded on Elephant Island. She reached Montevideo before hearing of their rescue. In 1922, after two years laid up, she was bought by Crown Agents and rebuilt for use as an oceanographic survey ship. Based on the Falkland Islands, she carried out the Discovery Investigations into the life and ecology of the whale.

In 1929 DISCOVERY was lent to Sir Douglas Mawson for his British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), in which almost a third of the Antarctic coastline was charted for the first time, and many places were named after members and sponsors of the Expedition.  DISCOVERY was then laid up again until she was presented to the Boy Scout Association, and endowed by Lady Houston. She became a memorial to Antarctic heroes, the Headquarters for Sea Scouts, a centre for their training, and an accommodation ship for Scouts or Sea Scouts visiting London. She was berthed on a pier by Temple Tube Station.

During the Second World War DISCOVERY became the Headquarters of the River Emergency Service. A Barrage Balloon dragged its cable across the Main Course yard, and broke it. After the war she was handed back to the Sea Scouts. During the Festival of Britain in 1951 an exhibition on Antarctica was mounted in the ship, and she was opened to the public. In 1953 the Royal Navy took her on. The London Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve used her for extra accommodation for the Admiral Commanding Reserves until 1980. A proposal to tow her out and use her for target practice led to protests, and following intervention by The Duke of Edinburgh she was sold to the Maritime Trust. The Trust opened her to the public in St. Katherine’s Dock. In 1986 DISCOVERY was carried to Dundee, where she was eventually sold to Dundee Industrial Heritage, who built a dock to accommodate her, with a dedicated exhibition building alongside.  DISCOVERY was recorded on the National Register of Historic Vessels in 1996 and is a member of the National Historic Fleet.

3.      How does the vessel’s shape or form combine and contribute to her function?

Overall aesthetic impact of the vessel, her lines, material she was built from and her setting.  Does she remain in her working environment?

DISCOVERY’s massively built wooden hull, constructed with oak beams, pitch pine planking and green heart sheathing, was designed to withstand being frozen into the ice. She rolled badly in the open sea, as the flat shallow hull, built with no protuberances to allow her to work well in ice, provided minimal stability in heavy seas. DISCOVERY was also designed with a lifting propeller and rudder, thus being able to be steered and steamed to prevent ice damage or if she lost her rudder post. She had iron-shod bows which were severely raked, so that when ramming the ice they would ride up over the margin and crush the ice with deadweight. DISCOVERY has close associations with the city of Dundee, where she is now on permanent display to the public as a static exhibit in a dry dock.

Source: NHS-UK team, 06 October 2015. 

This statement was developed as part of the Heritage Lottery funded First World War project. http://www.ww1britainssurvivingvessels.org.uk/

Key dates

  1. 1901 Vessel built by the Dundee Shipbuilders' Company for the National Antarctic Expedition 1901-4
  2. 1901-1904 National Antarctic Expedition
  3. 1905 Vessel sold to the Hudson Bay Company to carry supplies to the Trading Post in theHudson Bay, and bring furs back
  4. 1916 Refitted in Devonport and went South to pick up Shackleton’s crew of ENDURANCE who were stranded on Elephant Island
  5. 1920-1923 Laid up in the West India Docks
  6. 1922 Vessel bought by Crown Agents and rebuilt for use as world leading oceanographic survey ship  Based on the Falkland Islands, she carried out The Discovery Investigations - the first research into the life and ecology of the whale
  7. 1923-1927 Carried out The Discovery Investigations
  8. 1929-1931 Undertook the British, Australian and New Zealand Antartic Research Expeditions
  9. 1937-1954 Owned by Boy Scout Association
  10. 1954-1979 Vessel taken on by the Royal Navy  The London Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve used her for extra accommodation for the ‘Admiral Commanding Reserves’
  11. 1979-1986 Passed into the care of the Maritime Trust, berthed on the River Thames and open to the public
  12. 1985 Bought by Dundee Industrial Heritage Trust
  13. 1986 28 March: Carried to Dundee in a Floating Dock, arriving on the River Tay on 3 April
  14. 1992 Moved to a custom built dock becoming the centrepiece of Dundee’s visitor attraction, Discovery Point

Reports

RRS DISCOVERY - The 2007-2009 Restoration and Conservation Project, by Captain John J Watson OBE is available to read online under the Technical Papers section on our website: http://www.nationalhistoricships.org.uk/reference_sources.php?action=search

Bibliography

  1. 1953 Sea Breezes Scott's "Discovery"
  2. 1978 Old Ships, Boats and Maritime Museums - Sullivan, Dick
  3. 1980 Mariner's Mirror The Steam Yacht Discovery
  4. 1990 Your history of the Royal Research Ship Discovery - Laing, Massie
  5. 1992 Sea Breezes The Royal Research Ship 'Discovery' of 1901
  6. 1993 International Register of Historic Ships - Brouwer, Norman J

Grants

  1. 1981 The National Heritage Memorial Fund awarded £50,000 for restoration works
  2. 1985 The National Heritage Memorial Fund awarded £50,000 for restoration works
  3. 1994 The National Heritage Memorial Fund awarded £67,400 for dry docking
  4. 1996-1997 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £124,9000 for restoration work
  5. 2000-2001 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £138,500 to improve interpretation and exhibitions
  6. 2000-2001 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £6,345 tp purchase exploration objects
  7. 2001-2002 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £26,400 for Polas Sale Acquisition
  8. 2004-2005 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £39,000 for a structural survey
  9. 2006-2007 The Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £528,000 for restoration and conservation
  10. April 2008 A Sustainability Grant of £2000 for interpretation was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships
  11. 2010 A grant of  £30,000 was given towards replacement dock pumps by The Headley Trust
  12. 2012 A Sustainability Grant of £1000 towards a floating platform was made from the Strategic Development Fund of National Historic Ships UK
If you are the owner of the vessel and would like to provide more details or updated information please contact info@nationalhistoricships.org.uk

parrel:

a rope, chain or iron collar which attaches the yard to the mast but which allows vertical movement