Discovery collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence, notes and plans relating to the building of the steam yacht Discovery for the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott).

Much of the material is addressed to Reginald William Skelton who served as chief engineer and supervised the fitting out of Discovery.

Administrative / Biographical History

Discovery was built by the Dundee Shipbuilders' Company as the expedition ship for the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott). The work was undertaken at a cost of 34,050, plus 10,322 for the engines. After her launch on the River Tay on 21 March 1901, Discovery sailed to London before continuing to Cowes, Isle of Wight, from where she departed for New Zealand on 6 August 1901 under Scott's command.

Crossing the Antarctic Circle on 3 January 1902, she reached her winter quarters at Hut Point, Ross Island, where she remained ice-bound until February 1904.

After the expedition, Discovery was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company, operating as a merchant vessel until 1913, when the company agreed to sell her to J. Foster Stackhouse, who was planning to lead an Antarctic expedition. Due to insufficient funds and Stackhouse's death, Discovery remained in the ownership of the Hudson's Bay Company and, in 1915, under the direction of a subsidiary company, the Bay Steamship Company, she was chartered to the French government, undertaking merchant voyages to New York and to Archangel in northern Russia.

In 1916, the Hudson's Bay Company lent Discovery to assist in the rescue of the party stranded on Elephant Island during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1916 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton). Setting sail from Plymouth on 10 August 1916 under the command of Captain James Fairweather, Discovery arrived in Montevideo to discover that the Elephant Island party had been rescued by the Chilean naval tug Yelcho.

On her return to Britain, Discovery operated as a merchant vessel under the management of the Bay Steamship Company between 1916 and 1919. In 1919, she was chartered to the Merchant Trading Company of London, carrying supplies via the Black Sea to Russia during the Russian Revolution. On her return from South Russia in 1920, Discovery was laid up in London in the South West India Dock, and two years later, was lent by the Hudson's Bay Company to the 16th Stepney Sea Scout Troop as their temporary headquarters.

Discovery was sold to the Crown Agents as an expedition ship for the Discovery Investigations, 1925-1951, organized to conduct scientific research in the Southern Ocean in order to preserve the whaling industry. Refitted for Hydrographic cruising and designated a Royal Research Ship, Discovery sailed from Dartmouth, arriving in South Georgia on 20 February 1926, where she started a programme of plankton and water sampling around the island. Departing for the Falkland Islands and South Africa, where she was joined by the steam trawler RRS William Scoresby, she returned to South Georgia in November 1926, from where both ships made extensive surveys of the whaling grounds. The work was extended to the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula the following year. Discovery arrived back in Falmouth in September 1927, returning to the Antarctic two years later when she was lent by the British government to the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1931 (leader Douglas Mawson).

After the expedition, Discovery was again laid up in London and, in 1936, was given to the Boy Scout Association as a training ship for Sea Scouts and as a memorial to Captain Scott.

Due to the high cost of maintenance, in 1953 the Boy Scout Association offered her unconditionally to the Admiralty for use by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. In 1979, Discovery was transferred to the Maritime Trust, undergoing essential repairs in Sheerness before returning to St. Katharine's Dock in London. In 1986, Discovery returned to Dundee, where an extensive restoration programme was conducted, and in 1995, her ownership was transferred to the Dundee Heritage Trust.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Discovery Point and The voyages of the Discovery, the illustrated history of Scott's ship by Ann Margaret Savours, Chatham Publishing, London (2001) SPRI Library Shelf 629.12[Discovery] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing, New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.