Tag Archives: Discovery

‘DISCOVERY’, CONTINUED

19 Apr

DISCOVERY: FULL SAIL

 

In my blog of 7 February, I wrote about the remarkable adventures of the ship Discovery, from her build in 1901 until the end of World War 1. Today, I continue her story from 1919 as she proceeded on her venerable and memorable history.

In 1919 she sailed to the Black Sea to exchange goods with groups supporting the dwindling numbers of the White Army – Discovery’s official log has one of the last signs of the old regime’s sway. The log pages show the Imperial Two-Headed Eagle, stamped by port authorities in Novorossiysk.

Discovery sailed to South Georgia and the Falklands in 1925. She had a second season in the Antarctic from 1926-1927. But probably her most important ventures were related to the protection of the Great Whales and the two BANZARE (British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition) expeditions, which ran between 1929 and 1931.

 

THE GREAT WHALES: 1925 -1927

A British committee considered the plight of the Great Whales before W.W.1.

Northern seas were, by this time, almost depleted of whales because of overexploitation and the attention of the whalers had turned south. Here the ‘Dependencies of the Falklands’ held sway and monies paid by Norway to the Dependencies for the use of shore whaling stations, contributed to the research fund that refitted Discovery as a research vessel in1923.

The brief was – a) to contribute to oceanographic research, b) to mark whales, c) to make exploratory trawls off the Falklands – Basically, to give a scientific base for whale regulation. Two Vessels were employed. Discovery carried an echo sounder that could chart the ocean bed both when the vessel was moving as well as stationary. Vertical stations, taking up to six hours, provided information on sea contents and plankton at known levels, from the surface to the seabed.

Discovery reached South Georgia in February 1926. Her scientists examined more than seven hundred whales – their size (over 80 feet), eating habits, breeding times, gestation periods, calves growth rate and age at maturity were recorded. Also Elephant Seals and birds were examined. Discovery stayed in South Georgia for two months, carrying out the first hydrographic and biological survey of the whaling grounds.

In 1926 Discovery with the ship the William Scoresby returned to South Georgia. On this occasion a remarkable survey of the whaling grounds was completed. With South Georgia at the centre, seven lines were stretched out, like spokes on a wheel, and twenty nine stations, which covered over 10.000 square miles were completed – currents were measured, there were 370 water samples and 307 plankton net hauls were recorded. This record was unique[i]

 

BANZARE: The British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-1930

BANZARE was a British Commonwealth initiative, driven by geopolitics and science. It was funded by the United KingdomAustralia and New Zealand

TRACK OF DISCOVERY 1929-1930 (dotted black line)

 

The Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, was in charge of the expedition; (Mawson, in 1912, had made a horrendous sortie along that arc of Antarctica facing Australia, during which his two companions died separately in horrible circumstances). But Mawson understood the geographical and scientific potential of Antarctica. He wrote that more than half the circumference of the globe remained to be charted in high southern latitudes. In addition the British Government were concerned about rival nation’s increasing activities in the continent, particularly Norway and Russia.   These points underlined the importance of establishing sovereignty over the continent

On BANZARE 1, land bases were not used, but Antarctica was investigated inland from a seaplane, the Gipsy Moth.

The expedition sailed from Cape Town in October 1929. Throughout Discovery’s journey to Antarctica, careful investigation into the marine life was made as Discovery called on sub-Antarctic Iles Crozet, Iles Kerguelen, and Heard Island (thousands of penguins and Elephant Seals ‘like logs’ along the beach).

The expedition aimed at Enderby Land. In January 1930, Kemp Land was confirmed and Gipsy Moth was used to record the vast panorama of Antarctic new land that spread out below her. Heavy blizzards were encountered, but Mawson discovered new land east to Kemp Land which he named MacRobertson Land (after the benefactor of the expedition). Enderby land was seen at last on 12 January 1930. Conditions prevented landing but a flag was raised on nearby Proclamation Island – which was given the name ‘Proclamation’ following the reading – on 13 January 1930. This claimed the area for the British Crown in the name of George V. The areas claimed were Enderby Land, Kemp Land and MacRobertson Land, together with the off lying Islands. (See map)

Flights were made from open water from around Proclamation Land. Moving pictures and many still photographs were taken. A flag we as dropped from 3,000 feet, two miles inland confirming the Proclamation. Mountain peaks were discovered. Discovery turned north on 26 January 1930.

 

 

THE SECOND BANZARE 1930-1931

 

 

2nd BANZARE EXPEDITION: (red line)

 

This voyage was primarily an acquisitive exploratory expedition. Mawson made proclamations of British sovereignty over Antarctic lands at each of the five landfalls—on the understanding that the territory would later be handed to Australia. One such proclamation was made on 5 January 1931 at Cape Denison. A hand-written copy of the proclamation was left at the site, enclosed in a container made of food tins and buried beneath a cairn.

BANZARE was also a scientific exploration. Work was successfully completed on voyages along much of the Antarctic coastline, and Mawson’s team were the first to chart much of the coast. Their exploration covered over 6437 km: Adélie Land, King George V Land and Queen Mary Land. Also new land, Princess Elizabeth Land was identified. A plaque was left on Mac Robertson Land. The claims provided a foundation for the establishment of the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Thirteen volumes of reports were produced relating to the expeditions between 1937 and 1975: geology, oceanography, meteorology, terrestrial magnetism, zoology and botany.

 

SEA SCOUTS AND AFTER: 1932 0NWARDS

Discovery returned to quieter waters. She was moored in the River Thames, alongside the Embankment. Funds were eventually raised to ensure her proper upkeep and she was handed over to the Sea Scouts for forty years (1932-1986). She was a training ship and hostel

 

                                                                 DISCOVERY MOORED ON THE EMBANKMENT

 

In spite of being in the heart of London Discovery survived the World War 11 blitz. She was designated headquarters of the River Emergency Services. This was an ambulance service with twenty-two stations The Scouts worked in eight-hour shifts and despite air raids, building rubble and sleepless nights, it is recorded that no Sea Scout failed to report for his duties.

In 1941 the Navy took on these duties and for the rest of the war Discovery was a Parachute Mine Station. The Sea Scout’s duties were to be on constant look out for parachute mines, locate them and telephone a compass bearing through to the Royal Naval Headquarters.

SEA SCOUTS AT WORK

 

From 1945 to 1951 Discovery was a Training Ship for the Sea Scouts – the first Queen’s Scout Presentations were made on the ship. For Over twenty years from 1955 she was utilised as a Drill Ship for recruits beginning navel service.

In 1979 Discovery was handed over to the Marine Trust, a trust established, in the words of the Duke of Edinburgh, ‘to do for historic ships what the National Trust does for buildings’[ii] She was moved to St Katharine’s Dock near the Tower of London and during this time she was extensively restored.

Her future (she was a star attraction) was carefully considered. When an offer came from Scotland to take over her care and maintenance, this was a wonderful opportunity for her to return to Dundee where she had been built, 85 years earlier. Discovery was transported, in a floating dock ship from Tower Bridge to Dundee in 1986. This was a great occasion –cheering crowds, a Royal Air Force Fly Past. Her arrival was dramatic as she became jammed in the hold of the floating dock ship and eventually arrived at Victoria Dock at midnight 3rd/4th January, where a few romantics were still lingering to greet her as she was piped in.

She is now at Discovery Point, Dundee, close to the new V&A Dundee – Scotland’s first design museum. Excellent tours describe the experience of the heroes of the early 1900s, the history of WW1, an account of scientific and geographical advances, details of BANZARE.  It’s a great place to visit.

 

                                                                          118 years old and many more to go!

 

127th.Psalm

 

 

[i] Sir Alister Hardy, quoted in The Voyages of the Discovery, 2001, Ann Savours Chatham Publishing , p 125

[ii] The Voyages of the Discovery, 2001, Ann Savours Chatham Publishing p 153

 

ARCTIC CONVOYS

4 Sep

One of my talks is on ‘The Voyages of Discovery’. ‘Discovery’ was built for Scott’s Antarctic expedition of 1901-1904. She was sold on after the expedition returned to England.

It was a surprise to find how many reincarnations she has had – she became a cargo vessel for the Hudson Bay Company of Canada, carrying textiles, tools & mirrors to barter for furs, she was involved in the Whaling Industry, became an oceanographic and research vessel, returned to the Antarctic with Douglas Mawson, was a training ship on the Thames and is now enjoying honourable (and relative), retirement at Dundee Point, where she is visited by thousands.

In WW1 in 1915, she was involved in supplying Archangel. Archangel was the only Russian port available to the West for the transport of supplies to Russia (the Germans controlled the Baltic, the Turkish Navy controlled access to the Black Sea via the Mediterranean). Discovery travelled in convoy via the North Sea to the Barents Sea and Archangel The approach to the White Sea was littered with German minefields. As ‘Steamer 141’ she went to Archangel between June and September 1915. Ten ships in the convoys were lost in these months. In the whole heroic strategy, 110 ships were lost, a third of the total. The courage of the seamen was phenomenal.

This transit was to be repeated in WW2. Winston Churchill called the journey the Worst Journey in the World. (a homage to Cherry Garrard’s book of this name). British and American ships supplied Archangel between 1941 and 1945. As in the WW1 the risks were terrible. The convoys sailed round German occupied Norway; the men endured freezing temperatures (minus 40°C), U boat attacks, and bombardments. The first of these convoys reached Archangel in September seventy-five 75 years ago. They provided supplies, moral support and eventually airplanes to the Soviet Union, as Hitler attacked.

These heroic men were celebrated recently in Archangel in events to mark the anniversary. Eight veterans were feted. The Princess Royal attended and visited British war graves.

No praise is too great.

SHACKLETON

6 Aug

The centenary of Shackleton’s most famous expedition is coming up fast. I imagine there will be many celebrations.

Shackleton is looked on as a charismatic leader, known throughout the world. His management skills are hugely admired. But, I wonder, would he, at the end of his career, have looked upon himself as a success or a failure?

Although his achievements are many, he never in fact, commanded more than 27 men and, it can be said,  he failed in the Antarctic goals he set himself: He was sent home by Scott from ‘Discovery’, a tremendous blow to a proud and ambitious man. On the ‘Nimrod’ expedition he achieved a glorious success in getting to within a hundred miles of the Pole, but he did not get to the Pole and, when eventually he had funds to return this had been achieved, not only by Amundsen, but also by Scott, no glory in being third. On the ‘Endurance’ expedition he did not achieve any of the ambitions that he had set himself – it has been said that some failures are more glorious than success and certainly, his command of this expedition is legendary (the sail to South Georgia and the boat journey to Elephant Island are regarded as almost miraculous), but he did not actually get onto the mainland.

I think ‘Endurance’ (part of the family motto), applies not only to the ship but to Shackleton himself. His endurance was both physical and outstandingly, mental. His overwhelming gift was to instill confidence and hope.

But I think at the end of his life, on balance, he would not have considered himself a great success.

Shackleton

9 May

Shackleton was an inspiring leader in adversity, he gave hope. In my talk on Shackleton I go over the three expeditions ‘Discovery’, ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Endurance’, each one follows inexorably after the other.

He is said to have advertised his Trans-Antarctic expedition: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success’.

He had thousands of applicants including a wonderful letter from ‘three sporty girls’, who were ‘strong and healthy, gay and bright’. Then, excellently, ‘If our feminine part is inconvenient we should be happy to don male attire’. They had been reading up on the Polar Regions and couldn’t see, ‘why men should have the glory and women none’ especially as there were women who were as capable and brave as men. They were not accepted!

Interestingly, they were not the only females who were interested in Antarctic exploration. Marie Stopes, of birth control fame, was an eminent botanist and biologist. She was particularly interested in glossopteris (seed ferns), which flourish in warm climates and she wanted to investigate their presence in Antarctica, which  would prove that the Antarctic had once been a warm climate. She discussed this with Scott before his ‘Terra Nova’ venture and he promised to bring back samples. These were found in the tent with the dead bodies of Scott and his companions in 1912, and did indeed confirm the theory.

There is no suggestion that Stopes wanted to go with Shackleton. She was 44, getting divorced, and no doubt her thoughts had moved on from pure research