The Scottish National Expedition to the Antarctic

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of newspaper cuttings relating to the Expedition, 1900-1903.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-1904) was undertaken with the sole aim of increasing and improving knowledge of polar science. Success was achieved by the production of high quality scientific results, particularly in the areas of polar oceanography, meteorology and wildlife observation.

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition was conceived and led by William Speirs Bruce (1867-1921) who had training and experience in all areas of the natural sciences, and a considerable background in polar observation. He regarded the Expedition as a Scottish response to the recent 'Discovery' Expedition, on which he had turned down the position of naturalist, due to its emphasis on exploration rather than scientific observation.

After failing to gain funding from the British Government, Bruce raised the cost of the expedition by private subscription. Two of the Coats brothers of Paisley donated generously providing two-thirds of the overall budget. In 1901, Bruce purchased the Norwegian whaler 'Hekla'. This was repaired and altered at Ailsa Shipbuilding Company's yard in Troon, under the free direction of the naval architect G. L. Watson. Following alteration the ship was renamed the SY 'Scotia'.

SY 'Scotia' departed from Troon on 2 November 1902. On board were a crew of 25 and an impressive team of scientists recruited from amongst Bruce's friends and colleagues. These included a zoologist, a botanist, a meteorologist, a geologist, a taxidermist and a bacteriologist. The SY 'Scotia' sailed south, via Madeira and the Falkland Islands. On the way, meteorological surveys were carried out every 4 hours and the oceanographic instruments tested. Scientific studies were also undertaken at the Cape Verde Islands and St Paul's Rock. Bruce recorded events throughout the trip using a variety of methods. These included cinematography, phonography and photography using a variety of cameras.

On 3 February 1903, the SY 'Scotia' arrived at Saddle Island in the South Orkney Islands, where the scientific team made their first Antarctic landing. Afterwards the SY 'Scotia' continued to progress southwards until a drop in temperature saw a short period beset in pack ice. After breaking free, the trip south was abandoned for the season. The ship progressed NNE along the pack ice before anchoring for the winter in Scotia Bay on the south side of Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands. A wooden meteorological observation station, named Omond House, and a cairn, as a reference point for topographic survey work, were constructed immediately. Over the winter, observations and collections of specimens were undertaken in a number of scientific disciplines. Small parties were sent out for short periods to enhance these. In addition, a considerable amount of topographic survey work was undertaken allowing the first map of Laurie Island to be draughted.

After breaking free from the ice in Scotia Bay, on 22 November 1903, the SY 'Scotia' sailed to Argentina via the Falkland Islands. A team of 6 men were left ashore to continue scientific observations, particularly on penguins. Negotiations with the Argentine Government, to assume the responsibility for meteorological observations, were successful, and 3 Argentines returned with the ship to staff Omond House along with Robert Cockburn Mossman (1870-1940). This team was left on Laurie Island to be collected by the 'Uruguay' in December 1904.

The SY 'Scotia' proceeded south into the Weddell Sea to undertake oceanographic observations. Previously undiscovered land was sighted on 3 March 1904. This was named Coats Land in honour of the Coats brothers' support of the expedition. The ship continued to edge south until meeting the ice shelf. Following a storm the ship became stuck in the pack ice at 74o 01'S 22o00'W, the furthest latitude south achieved by the expedition, where it remained for 6 days. Following liberation, further oceanographic soundings were taken to compare with those recorded by James Clark Ross in 1843.

The SY 'Scotia' arrived back in Scotland on 21 July 1904, having travelled via Gough Island, south-west Africa, Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Cape Verde Islands and the Azores. During the journey a number of trips ashore were taken for scientific observation and collecting, as well as recreation.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Brown, Robert Neal Rudmose.  The voyage of the 'Scotia': being the record of a voyage of exploration in Antarctic seas. Edinburgh: W Blackwood 1906. (2) American Society of Polar Philatelists.  Antarctic Philately: William S. Bruce. Full-text [online]. http://www.south-pole.com/ [Accessed 26 June 2001].

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Subjects