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8. RRS Discovery

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The RRS Discovery was built in Dundee in 1901. It was the first purpose built scientific research vessel for the Polar Regions and its first use was for what became known as the Discovery Expedition (1901-1904) that took Captain Scott all the way to Antarctica. During this expedition the Discovery was to send two years locked into the ice, at one stage being over 20 miles from open water!

Fun Fact: In 1911 the Discovery had a very unusual passenger on board for the journey from North America to the UK – a live brown bear destined for London Zoo!

At the time of sailing south for that expedition less was known about Antarctica than we now know about the planet Mars! They carried three years worth of supplies on board to help the 47 Officers, Scientists and crew to work and survive; everything from clothing, equipment, fuel, food and drink had to be crammed onto the ship. One ever present feature in the provisions lists for long voyages in those days were ships biscuits.

Activity: Why not try Make Your Own Ships Biscuits using the recipe provided and taste for yourself what an explorer had to endure!

During their time in Antarctica great scientific work was carried out in temperatures so low that your sweat freezes. They collected fossils that helped to prove that Antarctica was once a forested, warm continent which had been connected to others (the “supercontinent” theory), they discovered the first breeding colony of Emperor Penguins, walked the furthest south any humans had ever been and Captain Scott even became the first person to fly in Antarctica, thanks to a balloon nicknamed ‘Eva’.

Fun Fact: The Discovery Expedition had an incredible amount of food and drink supplies – including 2800lb of tea which is enough for more than 500,000 cups!

With the extreme cold a permanent danger the men of Discovery had to take many layers of specialised clothing to help them survive. Underlayers of wool and fleece were covered with thick protective jackets and trousers made of gabardine which designed to be wind proof. Reindeer, seal and even wolf furs were used for boots, gloves, sleeping bags and smocks.

Activity: Try out our Blubber Glove Experiment and see how penguins and seals manage to survive the cold without all of the clothing the crew had.

One of the biggest risks to the crew was surprisingly from the sun. The snow and ice acts like a mirror and intensifies the effects on the human eye and can cause snow blindness. This is not only very dangerous (it’s like getting sunburn on your eye and in rare cases loss of sight can be permanent) but also incredibly painful – it is said to feel like thousands of needles hitting your eye at the same time! To reduce the possibility of getting this a variety of different protective snow goggles have been used over the years. Captain Scott preferred the wooden style based on those used for centuries in the Arctic.

Activity: Check out the Wooden Snow Goggles Belonging to Captain Scott including a 3D Scan on the page and then try making your own using our Snow Goggles Worksheet instructions.

RRS Discovery Has A Two Seater Airplane

During BANZARE the Discovery was equipped with a two seater airplane. You can see a short clip of it in action.

Important: Make sure you watch to the end for a near disaster captured on camera!

Who Looks After Discovery Today?

Since that first expedition the Discovery has been to Antarctica two more times for the British Oceanographic Expedition (1925-1927) and lastly the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition or ‘BANZARE’ (1929-1931). Throughout her life the ship has also been used as a cargo ship with the Hudson’s Bay Company, a transport ship during the first world war, a training ship and hostel for the Boy Scouts Association, a training or "drill" ship for the Royal Navy and finally becoming a permanent museum ship, at first with the Maritime Trust in London and then (since 1986) with Dundee Heritage Trust.

Fun Fact: It cost Dundee Heritage Trust just £1 to buy the Discovery! However, the continual maintenance and preservation projects have cost millions since then.

Watch the video see what is happening whilst the pandemic is happening.

Would you like to be staying on board RRS Discovery during the pandemic?


Learn More About RRS Discovery

As we have learnt already you can not visit the RRS Discovery today, however, we have lots of other online resources to learn more.

Hint Hint: The more you know the easier Friday's challenge project will be!

RRS Discovery Next to the V&A
RRS Discovery Next to the V&A
Make Your Own Ships Biscuits Worksheet
Make Your Own Ships Biscuits Worksheet (PDF)
Blubber Glove Experiment Worksheet
Blubber Glove Experiment Worksheet (PDF)
Snow Goggles Worksheet
Snow Goggles Worksheet (PDF)
RRS Discovery In Dundee
RRS Discovery In Dundee
RRS Discovery In Ice
RRS Discovery In Ice
RRS Discovery Crew
RRS Discovery Crew

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