Life after the Antarctic Expedition

11th, 2012
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The Discovery had arrived and berthed in the East India Dock, London, on the 15th of September 1904 and the National Antarctic Expedition as it had been named, was brought to a conclusion at the Royal Albert Hall, London, on the 7th of November 1904. Captain Robert Scott, who had then become known as Scott of the Antarctic, delivered a lecture on his expedition’s experiences. He became the cult figure of the day but would never sail on the Discovery again.

The reason for this is sadly simple. The Joint Committee of the British Antarctic Expedition had no money and, in 1905, on the 17th of January of that year to be precise, Discovery was sold to the Hudson Bay Company for a sum far below what she was considered to be worth. Now, today, that company is the oldest corporation in Canada having been founded in the year 1670. In 1905 it was more or less confined to outlets in Hudson Bay on the East Coast of Canada where ships could not visit during the long winter months because it was iced in. No great icebreakers then to keep channels open for as long as was possible!

It may be that because of her design to cope with Antarctic ice,Discoverywas seen as a valuable acquisition at the time. Indeed, she was soon converted to a cargo vessel and began a series of return voyages from London across the Atlantic Ocean to Hudson Bay.

Discovery’s routes to the Hudson Bay area 1905-1911


Her cargo going to Hudson Bay would have been varied but apart from the usual foodstuffs on the outward leg, she would have carried a quantity of gunpowder and ammunition. On the voyage back to London furs would have made up the bulk of her cargo. What is certain is that she again endured ice-infested waters, only this time it was at the other end of the globe. To give the reader an idea how long these voyages lasted, in 1905 and Captained by one Alexander Grey, she left London on the 15th of June arriving in Hudson Bay on the 27th of August. She thereafter departed Hudson Bay on the 8th of September before it iced up, to return to London on the on the 3rd of November 1905. So it was only possible to complete one voyage each year. One cannot imagine the hardships that the officers and crew experienced during the five months of the voyage. The North Atlantic is a dangerous enough ocean and is made doubly so by the presence of ice. Think about waking up in the morning to find yourself surrounded by enormous ice-bergs, each looming high above the main mast head. Awe inspiring? Frightening? Intimidating? Or just another day at the office, as I’m sure it turned out to be for those brave sailors.

The Discoveryserved the Hudson Bay Company for 18 years of her life with some interruptions. In 1912 she was replaced by a new steamship specially constructed for Arctic navigation and laid up in London. Next year, 1913, a British Antarctic Oceanographic Expedition was planned for 1914-15 and a deposit was paid to the Hudson Bay Company for the use of Discovery on that expedition. However, the purchase was never completed and she remained in the ownership of the Hudson Bay Company.

Then, of course, in 1914 the First World War began and, in 1915, Discovery became one of about 300 ships managed by the Hudson Bay Company on behalf of the French Government. These ships were used to transport war materials, food and manufactured goods for the French Army, and later, for civilian needs. After having been laid up in London for four years she would have been in no fit state to put to sea. She had to be refitted and, in wartime, cost takes a back seat, so she underwent an extensive refit, including all her rigging. After this work had been completed in London, she left Falmouth in ballast on the 25th of April 1915 bound for New York.

Since the next 5 years or so is another particularly interesting time in the old girl’s life it is best that I lump it together in the next part of the story of the RRS ‘Discovery’.

I’ll be with you again in a fortnight!

©         John J Watson          November 2011         Fethiye

Captain John:

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