London 1932 to 1986

16th, 2012
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When the Discovery arrived back from the Antarctic in August 1931 she would have looked work-worn and badly in need of a thorough overhaul. Alas, this was not to be. Finally she had reached the end of her working life, and what a life it had been! She was regularly inspected when lying in West India Dock in London, on the off-chance that she might be used again for another Antarctic expedition. But the Discovery Committee now had the Discovery II and had acquired the William Scoresby, so Discovery was indeed redundant. There was a rumour that she would be sold by the Crown Agents and two of the Committee’s staff started to raise funds to secure her for a National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, describing her as a ‘National asset and should be preserved for the Nation’. Their efforts were in vain.

Then, in 1936, she was accepted for use by the Boy Scouts Association by His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent, who was Commodore of the Sea Scouts at the time. Moored alongside the Embarkmentin Kings Reach on the River Thamesshe was used as a training ship. Between 1936 -39 and 1946-55, thousands of Sea Scouts from all over the country took part in week-long or week-end training courses on board. Many Scout Leaders were trained and the local Scout Troops kept their boats on Discovery’s moorings, or used her boats.

All wars wreak misery and decisions are taken where valuable items become lost forever. Such was the fate of the Discovery. Between 1940 and 1945 courses were run on board for men to enter the Royal Navy. She was the headquarters of the River Emergency Service. Sadly, her engines and all machinery on board were dismantled and broken up for scrap; her yards were taken down for safety reasons. All of this is understandable in times of war but unforgivable in times of peace.


The pictures show the Discovery in West India Dock about 1934, and moored at the Victoria Embankment in the 1950s.

In 1955 Discovery was transferred to the Admiralty and used by the Royal Navy Reserve and the Royal Naval Auxiliary Service as an additional drill ship, although she continued to be used by the SeaScouts.

Now comes a period when she would be brought properly back to the general public’s attention. It may be that the Admiralty no longer had any use for her, or that the financial burden of keeping her was considered too heavy, nevertheless, on the 2nd of April 1979 Discovery was handed over by the Ministry of Defence to The Maritime Trust for restoration and display. The Trust had been formed in 1969 ‘to do for historic ships what the National Trust does for buildings’. It had agreed to take charge of the ship’s structure and the National Maritime Museum would mount displays and provide some staff. First she was taken to Sheerness where essential underwater repairs were made. Then she was taken to St. Katherine’s Dock, near the Tower of London, to lie with the Trust’s collection of historic ships. The picture shows her moored in St Katherine’s Dock about 1985.

She spent nearly seven years in St Katherine’s Dock, during which time many features were repaired and restored. A decision had been taken to restore her to her 1924/5 condition and that same decision continues to be honoured today. It was never the intention that Discovery remained in St Katherine’s Dock and a number of alternative berths in London were considered. As with all things, other forces were at work! Forces that were both persuasive and convincing. The City of Dundee in Scotland had embarked in an ambitious program of regeneration. It needed a focal point! Discovery had been built in Dundee, so why not bring her back to the city of her birth?Why not adopt the slogan ‘City of Discovery’? Frantic negotiations took place until finally an agreement was reached where The Maritime Trust would lease Discovery toDiscovery Quay Development for a period of years, with the caveat that she would continue to be restored to her 1924/5 condition. The Agreement was signed on the 29th of November 1985.

The photograph shows Discovery being manoeuvred out of St Katherine’s Dock prior to her departure to Dundee in 1986.


Next; the story continues when Discovery arrives in Dundee and begins a new chapter in her life, one that would allow her to be enjoyed by many generations to come.

© Captain John J Watson OBE January 2012 Fethiye

Captain John:

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