British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-1931

26th, 2012
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British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-1931

Before telling about the above expedition it may be better if I recap a little. On her voyage to the Antarctic during 1925/27 Discovery had carried out the first biological and hydrographical survey of the whaling grounds in the South Atlantic. A great deal of the research done related to the study of plankton and its predator the Krill, which is principal in the food chain of the whale and of the whaling industry. Regulations were framed for shore stations in order to introduce conservation measures to protect the whale population, and these were enforced. But the industry had moved on. Large whale factory ships with stern slipways were built, and because these ships operated on the high seas, the regulations controlling the whale catch for shore stations could not be applied. Despite this the 1925/7 Discovery voyages had been a great success; she had occupied 200 official stations; gathered extensive echo-sounding data and recorded some 2,300 miles of plankton records.

Given the scope of research still to be done it soon became obvious that Discovery was far from being ideal for that future work. Her accommodation was inadequate; her fuel capacity too small; her engines were old; and, because she was basically a sailing ship, her standing rigging greatly hindered the operation of research equipment. It seemed the end of an era when the Discovery Committee decided to replace her with a new steel steamship – Discovery II – which sailed on her first commission in December 1929.

Politics came to the rescue of the Discovery. An Australian Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Douglas Mawson from 1911 to 1914, had conducted research and survey work in the Antarctic and in 1928 it was decided that it was time to continue that work. This time it would be a joint Commonwealth approach, funded by the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. This gave birth to the name of BANZARE, the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition. Discovery was lent to the expedition by the British Government and left London in August 1929 bound for Cape Town where she would pick up Mawson, who had been appointed to lead the expedition, along with his scientific staff. So the Old Girl had been given a new lease of life.

Generally speaking the voyages were seen to be ones that resulted in acquisition of lands in the Antarctic Continent. Of course the work would be curtailed during the Antarctic winter, roughly April through to September of each year. Therefore, when she arrived in Cape Town in October 1929 she was able to go directly to the Antarctic and start work during the summer of 1929; she was joined by a Norwegian ship called Norvegia to assist in the work to be done. The Expedition was well organised and reasonably adequately funded to carry out extensive surveys and research voyages around the South Atlantic and Antarctica. Several other vessels were called upon to supply the expedition, unlike those who had gone before who had suffered untold hardships for want of proper supplies.

It is worth mentioning that the photographer during the expedition was Frank Hurley whose images of the Antarctic wastes are considered among the best of that time. The following photographs he took of the Discovery, the first while at sea under sail from the bowsprit and the second while she was berthed in Cape Town before sailing south (Note she is flying the Australian flag). Yet again my thanks go to Dundee Heritage Trust who hold these images in its archives.


During the Antarctic winter of 1930 Discovery spent time in both Port Adelaide in Australia and Hobart in Tasmania. By the time she returned to the Antarctic in 1930/31 she was feeling her age, after all, apart from a complete makeover in 1925/25, she was an old woman in ship terms. Over 30 years she had spent mainly in the harshest conditions on Earth but still she persevered! During her two BANZARE voyages she worked at 115 stations; 40 of these were complete hydrographic and plankton stations similar to earlier voyages. Over 20,000miles of echo-sounding records were charted and an extensive series of bottom samples were taken using a variety of trawls and dredges. The biological collections were later taken to the University of Adelaide but later shared widely. The British Museum of Natural History in London hold the fish samples taken it its collections.

Two other important facts shed light on the purpose of the expedition. The first is that Mawson made proclamations of British Sovereignty over Antarctic lands, later to be included in Australian Antarctic Territory. The second, and much more amazing, was that Discovery carried a seaplane that assisted in conducting the surveys of the Antarctic lands visited. Those airmen involved must now be looked upon as pioneers themselves, since the risks they took to gather the vital information from above must be considered nothing short of heroic. Certainly the results confirm this.
Mawson and his scientists left the Discovery in Melbourne in April 1931. She departed for London on the 18th of April 1931, calling at Wellington then crossing the Southern Ocean to round Cape Horn to call at Montevideo before returning to London on the 1st of August 1931.

Photograph – Discovery Seaplane – Off for a Reconnaissance Flight – DHT collection

Next: a new life – perhaps!
© Captain John J Watson OBE January 2012 Fethiye

Captain John:

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