List of Antarctic exploration ships from the Heroic Age, 1897–1922

This list includes all the main Antarctic exploration ships that were employed in the seventeen expeditions that took place in the era between 1897 and 1922, known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. A subsidiary list gives details of support and relief vessels that played significant roles in the expeditions they were commissioned to support.

Adrien de Gerlache, who led the first of the "Heroic Age" expeditions

The tables do not include the regular whaling voyages that took place during this period, or expeditions such as that of Carl Chun in 1898–1899 in the German vessel Valdiva, which did not penetrate the Antarctic Circle.[1] The abortive Cope Expedition of 1920–1922, which collapsed through lack of funding without finding an expedition ship, is likewise excluded, though two men were landed from a Norwegian whaler and spent a year on the Antarctic peninsula.[2]

Of the ships listed, three survived into the 21st century and are serving as museums: Discovery in Dundee, Fram in Oslo, and Uruguay in Buenos Aires. Two ships – Antarctic and Endurance – were lost in the course of their expeditions; two more – Gauss and Yelcho – were scrapped when their useful lives were over. The fate of the Japanese Kainan Maru is unknown. The others, twelve ships in all, continued their maritime duties and were wrecked or sunk in the years between 1907 and 1962.

Table 1: Expedition ships

Ship/country GRT Image Expedition Leader Subsequent history and fate
(formerly Patria)
263[3]   Belgian Antarctic Expedition 1897–1899 Adrien de Gerlache After her Antarctic voyage, Belgica was employed by a succession of owners in various capacities. Following several years as a research vessel in the Kara and Greenland Seas[4] in 1916 she was renamed Isjford and became a coal freighter.[5] Subsequently, she was converted into a floating fish factory. After the outbreak of the Second World War she was seized by the British and used as an ammunition depot, before being sunk by the Germans during an air raid on 19 May 1940. The wreck was rediscovered in 1990.[6]
Southern Cross
(formerly Pollux)
521[7]   British Antarctic Expedition (Southern Cross Expedition) 1898–1900 Carsten Borchgrevink In 1901 Southern Cross was sold, and became a seal hunter. She worked in this capacity until late March or early April 1914. Then, while returning to Newfoundland from the Gulf of St Lawrence, she was lost with her entire complement of 173, in the 1914 Newfoundland Sealing Disaster. The precise details of the loss of Southern Cross are unclear; one theory is that its overloaded cargo of seal pelts shifted during a storm and caused the ship to capsize. The loss of life was the heaviest in Newfoundland and Labrador sealing history.[8]
736[9]   National Antarctic Expedition (Discovery Expedition) 1901–1904 Robert Falcon Scott In 1905 Discovery was bought by the Hudson's Bay Company, and used as a cargo vessel until 1911.[10] After some years' inactivity in London, Discovery was used as a supply ship during the First World War.[11] In 1916 she was briefly involved in the search for Shackleton in the aftermath of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.[12] After the war she was acquired by Crown Agents and converted for oceanographic research.[13] In 1929 she returned to the Antarctic with Douglas Mawson and the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition,[14] before being laid up in London where, moored on the Thames Embankment, she served as a training centre for Scouts and Sea Scouts.[15] In 1953 she was bought by the RNVR and used as a drill ship until 1979, when she was sold to the Maritime Trust and became a museum ship.[16] After a spell in London's St Katherine Docks, in 1986 she was taken to Dundee, her home port, where, having been sold to Dundee Industrial Heritage, she became part of a permanent exhibition there.[17]
728[18]   First German Antarctic Expedition
(Gauss Expedition) 1901–1903
Erich von Drygalski After its acquisition by the Canadian government in 1905, Gauss was renamed CGS Arctic and enjoyed a long career as a survey vessel in the Canadian Arctic regions, under the command of Joseph-Elzéar Bernier.[19] Following a break in activities during the First World War, in which Arctic saw service as a floating lighthouse, Bernier returned in 1922 to command the ship in further Arctic journeys, until his retirement in 1925. Arctic, by then in poor condition, was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company, which dismantled the ship, the hull of which was abandoned on a sandbank.[20]
(formerly Kap Nor)
346[21]   Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1901–1903 Otto Nordenskiöld Antarctic did not survive the expedition. After being trapped in pack ice off the Antarctic Peninsula in early 1903, she suffered severe damage and sank off Paulet Island on 12 February 1903. Her complement was rescued without loss of life.[22]
(formerly Hekla)
375[23]   Scottish National Antarctic Expedition 1902–1904 William Speirs Bruce Scotia was sold, and resumed her role as a sealer off the Greenland coast. In 1913 she served as an ice patrol vessel in the North Atlantic. During the First World War she was chartered to the French government and saw service as a freighter. On 18 January 1916 she caught fire, and was burned out on Sully Island in the Bristol Channel.[24][25]
250[26] Third French Antarctic Expedition 1903–1905 Jean-Baptiste Charcot After the expedition, Français was sold to the Argentine government and renamed Austral. In December 1907 the ship was wrecked on a sandbank in the Río de la Plata (River Plate).[27][28]
458[29]   British Antarctic Expedition 1907 (Nimrod Expedition) 1907–1909 Ernest Shackleton On his return to England in 1909, Shackleton used Nimrod as a floating museum of the expedition, before selling her to help meet the expedition's debts. She worked as a coal carrier for the next few years. On 31 January 1919, Nimrod was wrecked and destroyed on the Barber Sands in the North Sea off the Norfolk coast. Ten of her twelve crew were lost with her.[30]
Pourquoi-Pas? IV
445[31]   Fourth French Expedition 1908–1910 Jean-Baptiste Charcot Pourquoi-pas? was used by the French Navy as a training ship during the First World War, after which Charcot resumed command, and during the following years led many scientific and exploratory missions. In 1928 the ship participated in the search for Roald Amundsen, who disappeared in the Arctic while himself involved in a search for the missing Italian explorer Umberto Nobile.[32] On 16 September 1936, en route to St Malo from Reykjavík, Pourquoi-pas? was wrecked when caught in a cyclone off the coast of Iceland. Only one crew member survived; Charcot was among the victims.[33][34]
Kainan Maru
(formerly Hoko Maru)
204[35]   Japanese Antarctic Expedition 1910–1912 Nobu Shirase After the return of the expedition, Kainan Maru was sold back to its former owners, and resumed its work as a fishing vessel.[36] Shirase devoted many years to raising funds to cover the expedition's debts and the costs of publishing its results. He died in poverty in 1946.[37] The ship may have been sunk in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1944 by a USAAF attack, but this is not conclusively known.[38]
402[39]   Amundsen's South Pole expedition 1910–1912 Roald Amundsen Amundsen had planned to use Fram as the basis of his intended Arctic drift, but delays, followed by the outbreak of war in 1914, negated his plans. Fram was left for many years to deteriorate at her berth in Horten. In 1925 a committee for the ship's preservation was formed, under Otto Sverdrup; in 1929 restoration work began in the shipyard at Sandefjord. Finally, in 1935, the restored Fram was brought to Oslo under the charge of Oscar Wisting, and placed in specially-erected housing. King Haakon formally opened the Fram House on 20 May 1936, where Fram remains.[40]
Terra Nova
744[41]   British Antarctic Expedition 1910
(Terra Nova Expedition) 1910–1913
Robert Falcon Scott After its return from the Antarctic in 1913, Terra Nova was repurchased by its former owners and operated as a sealer between 1913 and 1942. During the Second World War she was employed as a supply ship between Newfoundland and Greenland. On 12 September 1943 the ship suffered damage and began to leak badly. Her crew and certain artifacts were transferred to another vessel, after which the hulk was set alight and sunk by gunfire the next day.[42][43] In August 2012 the wreck of Terra Nova was discovered by a team from the Schmidt Ocean Institute.[44][45]
(formerly Bjørn)
598[46]   Second German Antarctic Expedition 1911–1914 Wilhelm Filchner After Deutschland returned to Germany she was sold to Felix König, who was intending to organise and lead an Austrian Antarctic Expedition. The ship's name was changed to Osterreich.[47] This expedition was cancelled following the outbreak of the First World War.[48] The ship was requisitioned by the Austro-Hungarian Navy, and served as a minesweeper until torpedoed in the Adriatic Sea in 1917.[49]
  New Zealand
386[50]   Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–1914 Douglas Mawson At the end of the expedition Aurora was left in Tasmania, and was sold to Sir Ernest Shackleton for £3,200, for use in the Ross Sea party component of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.[51]
(formerly Polaris)
350[52]   Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–1917 Ernest Shackleton Endurance was trapped by ice in the Weddell Sea, crushed and abandoned on 27 October 1915, and later sank.[53] Her crew made their way over the ice and by small boats to Elephant Island,[54] from where they were eventually rescued.[55] The wreck was discovered on 5 March 2022.[56]
  Ross Sea party 1914–1917 (in support of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition) Aeneas Mackintosh After completing the rescue mission of the Ross Sea party, Aurora was sold by Shackleton to W.R. Grace & Co of New York, for £10,000. In her new role, on 17 June 1917 she departed for Iquique in Chile, with a cargo of coal. She was never heard of again, although on 5 December 1917 a lifebelt bearing Aurora's name was recovered off the New South Wales coast. The ship was posted as missing by Lloyd's of London on 2 January 1918. Several theories to explain the disappearance have been raised, including severe weather and possible enemy action, but the cause of the loss remains a matter of conjecture.[57][58]
(formerly Foca I)
205[59]   Shackleton–Rowett Expedition Ernest Shackleton After the expedition Quest was sold, and operated by Norwegian owners as a sealer and Arctic research ship until 1940. In 1928 she participated in the search for Umberto Nobile, missing in the Arctic with the airship Italia, and in 1930 was chartered by the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, investigating the possibility of air routes to Canada via Greenland. During the Second World War Quest was loaned to the allied navies; in 1946 she was returned to her owners, and continued to work as a sealer until 5 May 1962, when she was trapped by ice and sank off the coast of Labrador.[60][61]

Table 2: Support and relief ships

Ship Captain Image Expedition History and subsequent fate
Morning   UK William Colbeck   National Antarctic Expedition (Discovery Expedition) 1901–1904 The auxiliary barque Morning (originally Morgenen) was built in 1871 as an Arctic whaler.[62] She made two Antarctic voyages in support of the Discovery Expedition. In January–February 1903 she delivered fresh supplies, but was unable to break through to help free Discovery from the ice which had held her since March 1902.[63][64] She returned in January 1904 when, with the assistance of a second relief vessel, Scott's future expedition ship Terra Nova, Discovery was finally freed and able to return home.[64][65] After her Antarctic missions, Morning returned to her whaling duties. She was lost during a storm in the North Atlantic on 24 December 1915.[62][66]
Uruguay   Argentina Julián Irízar   Swedish Antarctic Expedition 1901–1903 British-built in Birkenhead in 1874, Uruguay saw many years of service with the Argentine Navy before undertaking the work of an Antarctic relief and rescue ship.[67] Her success, under the captaincy of Julián Irízar,[68] in effecting the rescue of Otto Nordenskjöld's expedition from Snow Hill Island and Paulet Island created much interest.[67][69] Between 1903 and 1922 Uruguay made 13 further relief voyages to the Antarctic.[70] After her retirement she was used by the Argentine Navy as a depot ship. In the 1980s, restored and rebuilt, she became a museum ship, permanently moored at Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires.[71]
Koonya   New Zealand Frederick Pryce Evans Nimrod Expedition 1907–1909 Koonya was a steam cargo ship, 1,091 gross register tonnage, built in 1898 at Grangemouth.[72] Under her captain, Frederick Evans, between 1 and 14 January 1908 she towed Nimrod from New Zealand to the Antarctic Circle, a distance of about 1,500 miles (2,400 km), so that the latter vessel could conserve coal.[73] In doing so, according to Shackleton, she became the first steel-built ship to cross the Antarctic Circle.[74] On 3 June 1919 Koonya ran aground at Sandy Cape in Tasmania, and was wrecked. All her crew escaped.[72]
Luis Pardo   Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914–1917 Shackleton made three unsuccessful attempts to rescue the Endurance crew stranded on Elephant Island. For a fourth attempt he was given use of the Chilean naval tug Yelcho, under its captain Luis Pardo. Yelcho sailed from Puntas Arenas on 25 August 1916 and, helped by unexpectedly calm seas, reached Elephant Island on 30 August, when the rescue was duly effected.[75] After the return, to massive celebrations in Puntas Arenas on 3 September, Yelcho took Shackleton and his crew to Valparaiso and Santiago, where the welcomes were equally vociferous.[76] Yelcho then returned to her naval duties, and served until 1945, when she was withdrawn from regular duty but continued to be used as a tender at the Petty Officer School until 1958.[77] She was finally scrapped in 1962. In recognition of her Antarctic rescue, the ship's prow was incorporated into a permanent monument, which stands in Puerto Williams, Chile's southernmost coastal town.[78]

See also


Notes and references



  1. ^ Chun Collection.
  2. ^ Cope Expedition 1920–1922.
  3. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 129.
  4. ^ Ships of the Polar Explorers.
  5. ^ Belgica: Polar Record.
  6. ^ Belgica: whaler and research ship.
  7. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 138.
  8. ^ 1914 sealing disaster.
  9. ^ Lloyds Register 1934–1935.
  10. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 74–86.
  11. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 87–92, 98–101.
  12. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 93–97.
  13. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 110–129.
  14. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 130–150.
  15. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 151–152.
  16. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 152–154.
  17. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 153–160.
  18. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 161.
  19. ^ Riffenburgh 2007, p. 456.
  20. ^ Arctic profiles.
  21. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 126.
  22. ^ Swedish Antarctic Expedition.
  23. ^ Lardex (Norway).
  24. ^ Scotia: Polar Record.
  25. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 190.
  26. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 192.
  27. ^ Stewart 1990, p. 354.
  28. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 200.
  29. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 203.
  30. ^ Riffenburgh 2005, pp. 306–307.
  31. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 248.
  32. ^ Riffenburgh 2007, p. 221.
  33. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica.
  34. ^ Bryan 2011, pp. 255–256.
  35. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 245.
  36. ^ Turney 2012, p. 173.
  37. ^ Australian Museum 22 March 2013.
  38. ^ "Kainan Maru no.12 fishing ship 1944". Retrieved 2024-01-21.
  39. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 233.
  40. ^ The Polar Ship Fram.
  41. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 216.
  42. ^ Wreck discovered (Telegraph).
  43. ^ Scott's ship Terra Nova.
  44. ^ Terra Nova found (BBC).
  45. ^ Terra Nova found (Schmidt Institute).
  46. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 259.
  47. ^ Smith 2019, p. 257.
  48. ^ Smith 2019, p. 268.
  49. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 264.
  50. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 265.
  51. ^ Smith 2019, p. 260.
  52. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 280.
  53. ^ Smith 2019, pp. 295–299.
  54. ^ Smith 2019, pp. 300–322.
  55. ^ Smith 2019, pp. 372–373.
  56. ^ "Endurance is Found (Press Releases)". Retrieved 2022-12-11.
  57. ^ Dodd, June 2017.
  58. ^ Australian National Maritime Museum, 20 June 2017.
  59. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 312.
  60. ^ Quest biographical history.
  61. ^ Bryan 2011, p. 316.
  62. ^ a b Auxiliary barque Morning.
  63. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 46–51.
  64. ^ a b Scott Polar Research Institute.
  65. ^ Savours 2001, pp. 64–68.
  66. ^ Stewart 1990, p. 670.
  67. ^ a b Uruguay Museum Ship.
  68. ^ Otto Nordenskjöld.
  69. ^ Benson and Rehbock 2002, p. 145.
  70. ^ Donaghy 2014, Ch. 6.
  71. ^ Schäufflen 2002, p. 3.
  72. ^ a b Koonya wreck 1919.
  73. ^ Smith 2019, pp. 152–153.
  74. ^ Shackleton 2007, p. 48.
  75. ^ Smith 2019, pp. 371–372.
  76. ^ Smith 2019, p. 374.
  77. ^ Scottish Built Ships: Yelcho.
  78. ^ James Caird Society.



Books, journals and newspapers



Southern Cross
Kainan Maru
Terra Nova
Other ships