RRS Discovery was the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Designed for Antarctic research, it was launched as a Royal Research Ship (RRS) in 1901. Its first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, known as the Discovery Expedition. It is now the centrepiece of visitor attraction in its home, Dundee.
RRS Discovery in Antarctica c. 1923
|Owner:||Dundee Heritage Trust since 1985|
|Builder:||Dundee Shipbuilders Company, Dundee|
|Launched:||21 March 1901|
|Sponsored by:||Lady Markham|
|Status:||Museum ship in Dundee, Scotland|
|Class and type:||Wooden Barque; 1 funnel, 3 masts|
|Length:||172 ft (52 m)|
|Beam:||33 ft (10 m)|
|Propulsion:||Coal-fired 450hp steam engine and sail|
|Speed:||8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph)|
|Crew:||11 officers and 36 men|
Early discussions on building a dedicated polar exploration ship for the British government had considered replicating Fridtjof Nansen's purpose-built ship Fram but that vessel was designed specifically for working through the pack ice of the Arctic, while the British ship would have to cross thousands of miles of open ocean before reaching the Antarctic so a more conventional design was chosen. In charge of her overall design was W.E. Smith, one of the senior naval architects at the Admiralty, while the ship's engine, boilers and other machinery were designed by Fleet Engineer Philip Marrack.
The ship borrowed many aspects of her design (as well as her name) from the Bloodhound, a Dundee-built whaling ship taken into Royal Navy service as HMS Discovery in 1874 for the British Arctic Expedition to the North Pole. By 1900 few yards in the United Kingdom had the capability to build wooden ships of the size needed - only two shipbuilders submitted bids for the contract - but it was deemed essential that the ship be made from wood, both for strength and ease of repair and to reduce the magnetic interference from a steel hull that would allow the most accurate navigation and surveying. The main compass was mounted perfectly amidships and there were to be no steel or iron fittings within 30 feet (9.1 metres) of this point - to the extent that the original cushions for the wardroom (just aft and below the main bridge) were changed when it was found they included steel-backed buttons. For the same reason the boilers and engine were mounted towards the stern of the ship, a feature which also provided maximum space for equipment and provisions. A special laboratory for taking magnetic field measurements was provided below the bridge.
The ship was almost built in Norway by Framnæs, the yard which would later build the Endurance but it was thought that the British government's money should be spent at a British yard and the Discovery was built by the Dundee Shipbuilders Company, which primarily made smaller vessels such as trawlers, tugboats and steam yachts. The yard was previously owned by Alexander Stephen and Sons and had built the Terra Nova (purchased in 1910 by Scott for his last expedition) in 1884. The committee responsible for the ship's construction offered a separate tender for her boilers, engine and auxiliary machinery in an effort to reduce costs, but Dundee Shipbuilders also won that contract.
The ship cost £34,050 to build, plus another £10,322 to be fitted with engines and machinery and more than £6000 for other equipment and fittings: The total cost for the Discovery was £51,000, equivalent to £4.1m in modern currency.
Discovery was fitted with a 450-horsepower coal-fired triple expansion steam engine, but had to rely primarily on sail because the coal bunkers did not have sufficient capacity to take the ship on long voyages. At her economical cruising speed of 6 knots (6.9 mph, 11.1 km/h) she only carried enough coal for 7700 miles of steaming; the voyage to New Zealand covered over 12,000 miles. At 8 knots (9.2 mph, 14.2 km/h) she could steam only 5100 miles. The ship was seen as a sailing vessel with auxiliary steam propulsion - when first registered in 1900 Discovery was classified as a sailing ship.
She was rigged as a barque (the fore- and mainmasts being square rig and the mizzen mast carrying a fore-aft sail) and the total maximum sail area was 12,296 square feet (1142 square metres). Following the practice of the most modern sailing ships of the time, the windjammers, she carried split topsails to reduce the size of the deck crew needed to handle them. Her spars and sails on the foremast and mainmast were identical to reduce the amount of spares carried and allow easier repairs. The ship was rigged to carry several large staysails and the funnel was hinged at the base so it could be laid on the deck when the mizzen staysail was rigged once at sea. The Discovery was marginally faster under sail than she was under engine - her record for distance travelled in 24 hours is 223 nautical miles (358 km), equivalent to 9.2 knots (10.5 mph, 17 km/h).
The ship has a massively built wooden hull designed to withstand being frozen into the ice and resist crushing. At the time of her launch Discovery was widely held to be the strongest wooden ship ever built. The hull frames, placed much closer together than was normal, were made of solid sections of oak up to 11 inches (27.9 cm) thick. The outer hull was formed from two layers - one 6 inches (15.2 cm) thick and an outer skin some 5 inches (12.7 cm) thick. A third lining was laid inside the frames, forming a double bottom and skin around almost the entire hull. This meant that in places the hull was over 2 feet (60 cm) thick, providing not only formidable strength but excellent insulation against the cold. The construction meant that it was impossible to install portholes (and fitting them would have weakened the hull) so the crew relied on 'mushroom vents' on the deck to allow air and light into the interior.
The wood used for the planking varies depending on where in the ship it is laid and what structural purpose it serves: The inner layer is Scots pine while the 6-inch skin is made of pitch pine, Honduras mahogany or oak. The outer hull is made of English Elm and Greenheart. Oak beams run across the hull forming three decks - the lower deck beams are 11 inches (27.9 cm) square in cross-section and are placed less than three feet (0.9m) apart along the ship's length. Seven transverse bulkheads, also of wood, provide additional strength and ensured that any ice damage would not flood the entire ship. To prevent damage from ice floes or crushing the two-blade propeller could be hoisted out of the way and the rudder could be easily detached and stored aboard. A second rudder and spare propeller blades were carried, and the ship could be steered by use of her sails if her rudder or steering gear was completely disabled. Iron-shod bows were severely raked so that when ramming the ice they would ride up over the margin and crush the ice with deadweight. The coal bunkers on each side contained a steel compartment, each of which could hold 60 tons of fresh water. These would be filled on the long ocean trip to and from New Zealand but for the Antarctic expedition the extra coal capacity was more important as ice and snow could be melted each day to provide water, so the tanks would be filled with coal. The metal tanks also contributed to the strength of the lower hull around the boiler and engine spaces.
On 16 March 1900, in the context of significant donations to the approaching expedition by patrons Llewellyn W. Longstaff and the British Government, construction on the Discovery began in Dundee, Scotland, by the Dundee Shipbuilders Company. She was launched into the Firth of Tay on 21 March 1901 by Lady Markham, the wife of Sir Clements Markham, President of the Royal Geographical Society.
British National Antarctic ExpeditionEdit
The British National Antarctic Expedition departed the UK less than five months after the Discovery was launched and only a week after the ship left Dundee. This left little time for the ship to undergo sea trials and the voyage to New Zealand was also the brand new vessel's shakedown cruise.
The ship was berthed in London loading supplies and equipment until July 1901, when she sailed to Cowes on the Isle of Wight where she anchored during August. In this time she served as the yacht of the RGS during Cowes Week and was toured by several dignitaries, culminating in a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on 5 August. The expedition left from Cowes the next day, 6 August 1901.
Scott's first impression of the ship was poor, considering her slow and unresponsive while the shallow hull, built with no protuberances to work well in ice, provided minimal stability. Discovery rolled heavily once in the open sea (she was recorded rolling through 94 degrees - 47 degrees either side of vertical- in the Southern Ocean) and tended to 'gripe' (wander to and fro along her course). Shackleton described the ship as a bad sailer, carrying too much sail aft and not enough forward while Scott also worried that the design of the ship's hull was unsuitable for work in pack ice. But once the expedition reached the Roaring Forties the ship proved to have excellent seakeeping and, because she was heavy and carried relatively little sail area for her size, she could make good progress in high winds and heavy seas without having to reef. The Discovery's unusual rounded, overhanging stern (one of the main changes from the original Bloodhound design) not only provided more protection for the rudder but also prevented all but the largest following seas breaking over the back of the ship and kept the decks dry, although the stern was prone to 'slamming' into waves, making the officer's accommodation and wardroom noisy.
The expedition travelled to New Zealandvia Madeira and Cape Town for resupplying. The ship was put in dry dock for the first time at Lyttelton and the carpenter, Frederick Dailey, prepared a lengthy report detailing the numerous empty bolt holes and slack hull fittings he found. Six feet (1.8 metres) of water had seeped into the ship's bilges and lower hold through badly-sealed joints in the planking. While these were repaired there was considerable dispute between the RGS and Dundee Shipbuilders as to who was responsible for the defects, but the Discovery left for the Antarctic on December 21, 1901 after three weeks in New Zealand.
She sighted the Antarctic coastline on 8 January 1902. During the first month Scott began charting the coastline. Then, in preparation for the winter, he anchored in McMurdo Sound.[clarification needed] The ship would remain there, locked in ice, for the next two years; the expedition had expected to spend the winter there and to move on in the spring. Despite this, the Expedition was able to determine that Antarctica was indeed a continent, and they were able to relocate the Southern Magnetic Pole. Scott, Shackleton and Edward Wilson also achieved a Furthest South of 82 degrees 18 minutes.
In January 1903 the Morning arrived in McMurdo Sound with extra supplies for the expedition. It was hoped (by both the expedition in Antarctic and the organisers in London) that Discovery would be freed as the ice broke up in the Antarctic summer, allowing her to continue her voyage. but she remained icebound and the ship and its crew had to overwinter for a second year as the Morning left in March. Another land expedition was organised over the spring of 1903, with Scott again confident that a second summer would allow Discovery to leave the Sound. In January 1904 a second relief expedition arrived consisting of the Morning and the Terra Nova, with orders to extract the entire expedition and abandon Discovery if the ship was not free of the ice by 25 February. The two relief ships slowly broke a path through the ice while Scott organised work parties at the Discovery to use saws and pick axes to cut the ice away from the hull. However, by 10 February the research ship was still locked in the ice and the relief ships were two miles (3 kilometres) from the beleaguered ship. Scott began evacuating his equipment and samples from Discovery in preparation to abandon her but on 16 February 1904 the ice suddenly began to break up. After carrying out a number of controlled explosions with dynamite Discovery was freed from the pack and soon afterwards the relief ships were able to draw alongside. Discovery finally sailed for home the next day, the return voyage passing without issues apart from the vessel briefly grounding on a shoal as she left McMurdo Sound. Discovery arrived back at Spithead on 10 September 1904, 1131 days after her departure.
The British National Antarctic Expedition was acclaimed upon its return but was also in serious financial trouble, and so in 1905, Discovery was sold to the Hudson's Bay Company for £10,000 (a fifth of her original build cost) which used her as a cargo vessel between London and Hudson Bay, Canada. The HBC heavily remodelled the ship for her new purpose, stripping all the accommodation and other rooms below her weather deck in order to maximise cargo space. Features such as her lifting propeller, dredging winches and her original galley stove were removed and sold. The ship's officers were now accommodated in the deckhouses which had housed the ship's laboratories and scientific storerooms while the crew berthed in the focsle.
Discovery made an annual trans-Atlantic trip for the HBC between 1905 and 1911 carrying food, fuel, building materials and gunpowder from London to Charlton Island in Canada (near the HBC's large depot at Moose Factory). The ship was laden with the season's haul of fur hides for the return voyage. Each round trip took around two months and was made in the summer, although the ship often still had to break through ice in the Davis and Hudson Straights. From the 1912 season the Discovery and the other HBC ship, the Pelican, were replaced by a brand new and much larger steam-powered icebreaker, the Nascopie, and the vessel was laid up in London. In October 1913 she was sold for £9,500 to Joseph Foster Stackhouse, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society who was planning another research expedition to Antarctica. Stackhouse paid the HBC a £1000 initial deposit on the ship but was unable to raise the funds to pay the balance. The start of the First World War saw the planned expedition postoponed and Stackhouse died in the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, while returning from a fundraising trip to New York City. Following Stackhouse's death the HBC kept his £1000 deposit to cover the interim costs of maintaining Discovery.
The following month she was drydocked and re-rigged at the cost of £55 as part of a scheme financed and run by the HBC to carry wartime supplies from around the world to France - Discovery would be one of around 300 ships chartered via 6600 contracts under the scheme (she was Steamer #141), managed by a specially-formed shell company called the Bay Steamship Company. Discovery sailed from London bound for New York in April but had to put in at Falmouth due to a large leak around her rudder. The journey took 27 days in bad weather and the ship was found to be in poor condition with many leaking deck seams and a number of mechanical failures. Her eastbound trip was made to La Rochelle carrying caustic soda, sacking and corduroy. More leaks occurred, flooding the cabins and store rooms. Some of her timbers were found to have dry rot and her condenser failed, requiring sea water to be used in her boilers which then needed repairs.
Another refit and repair was made in Swansea in August 1915 and then the ship sailed for Arkhangelsk via French ports of Nantes, Bordeaux and Brest. Her cargo was 500 tons of French munitions being carried to support the Russian Empire, with Arkhangelsk on the White Sea being the only Russian port in European waters free of German blockade. The voyage via North Cape brought up more examples of the ship's poor condition as she suffered further leaks and rigging damage. Her return cargo was 557 barrels of methanol, which she carried to Le Havre. The Discovery's infamous roll in heavy seas caused some damage to the barrels and her lack of a dedicated cargo deck hatch meant that loading and unloading took much longer than in a purpose-made cargo vessel.
In 1916, Discovery was loaned to the British government to rescue Shackleton's party marooned on Elephant Island. Discovery was refitted in Plymouth and departed on August 11, 1916. Due to the ship's notoriously slow speed she was towed by the collier Polesley until she reached the favourable trade winds. With the First World War still raging, the tow was escorted by two Royal Navy destroyers. Just four weeks after leaving the UK the Discovery reached Montevideo, to learn that Shackleton had effected his own rescue in the Yelcho while Discovery was en route. In order to cover some of the costs of the abortive voyage, Discovery took on a cargo of 5943 sacks of wheat at commercial carriage rates for her return voyage. She returned to Plymouth in November where she was handed back to the HBC. She sailed to Lorient where she unloaded the cargo of grain.
Between January 1917 and March 1918 Discovery carried cargo along the French coast of the Bay of Biscay between Brest and Bayonne. She was released from convoy duty back to the HBC in April 1918 and in June made her last trans-Atlantic voyage, sailing from Cardiff to Charlton Island via Montreal. She twice became stuck in ice in the Hudson Straight near Cape Chidley and Charles Island. Her condition was such that she was not permitted to carry the valuable furs on the eastbound voyage, taking them only as far as Newfoundland in special wrappings to protect them from water leaks. With a cargo of general goods loaded at St. John's, Discovery arrived back at Liverpool in January 1919. Between then and July that year she made further coastal voyages along the French Atlantic coast, through the English Channel to Antwerp.
In July 1919, Discovery was taken up again by the British government for another voyage to Russia, this time in support of the White Russians in the Russian Civil War. With the Red Army in control of Russia's major north-eastern cities and ports, the only supply route was via ports on the Black Sea. Discovery departed from Kingston upon Hull and travelled to Gibraltar and across the Mediterranean Sea, reached Istanbul in late August and passed through the Dardanelles and docked at Novorossiysk in September. Here she transferred cargo from another HBC supply ship on the same run (the Pelican) and proceeded to Rostov-on-Don, which she reached on October 6. A three-week wait for cargo followed before Discovery was loaded with a cargo nearly 4000 barrels of cement. This was taken to Piraeus (reached on December 1) and then the ship returned to Istanbul where she loaded a general cargo including bags of nuts, linseed, rugs and carpets, caviar, mohair and copper sheet. She departed for London in mid-February 1920 and refuelled at Gibraltar on February 28. She unloaded at the East India Docks in mid-March.
The progress of the conflict in Russia meant that no further voyages were possible. A slump in the shipping business and the purchase of new, more modern ships by the HBC meant that Discovery was surplus to requirements. She spent a month moored to a buoy in the Thames at Deptford while she was offered for charter but in June was laid up in the South West India Dock. All her removable equipment was removed to be stored or sold while her machinery was preserved in a layer of grease.
In 1923 her fortunes were revived when the Colonial Office of the British government purchased her for further research work. The Hudson's Bay Company sold Discovery for £5000 and retained a right of first refusal to re-purchase the ship if she was sold in order to prevent a rival firm using her to compete on the Canadian fur trade. The government had bought the vessel to mount long-term projects investigating, charting and analysing the whale populations of the Southern Ocean. Discovery underwent a £114,000 refit at Vosper & Company which amounted to a rebuilding to put right years of wear and tear and equip the ship for her new purpose. Much of the cost was born by the Government of the Falkland Islands as the territory was increasingly dependent on whaling for its economy and the voyage would provide essential information on the location, size and management of the whale stocks. Because of this ownership of the Discovery was vested in the Falkland Islands' executive council and her port of registration was changed from London to Port Stanley. Now in the official service of the British government she was also designated as a Royal Research Ship.
Because her new role would require many thousands of miles of open-ocean travel, changed were made to improve Discovery's handling and sailing performance. As suggested by Scott and Shackleton in 1900 her fore- and mainmasts were moved forward (by 4 feet/1.2 metres and 8 feet/2.5 metres respectively) to make her more balanced and steady on a course while new yards and the addition of split topgallant sails increased her sail area by 20 per cent to improve her speed. All three of her hull skins were extensively re-planked and parts of her keel were replaced with new sections of imported Quebec oak, it proving impossible to obtain English oak of the required shape, size and strength. New cabins and other rooms were built both below deck and in deckhouses. These included biological and chemical laboratories, a library, a darkroom and new cabins and other facilities, including a new wardroom. The ship was fitted with several winches for handling sounding lines and deep-water trawling nets with cables totalling thousands of fathoms in length, plus an early electronic echo sounder. This allowed the ship to not only chart the depth of the ocean as she travelled but recover samples of the seabed, seawater and specimens of Deep sea fish. She was fitted with electric lighting powered by both a steam generator and a paraffin engine for use when under sail and also now boasted a refrigerated store for fresh provisions. She carried four motorboats of various sizes. In her new form she was re-registered as a steamship.
Stanley Wells Kemp was appointed the project's director of research while Joseph Stenhouse, veteran of the drift of the Aurora, was made captain of Discovery. The ship left Portsmouth in July 1925. The final aspects of the refit and trials had been rushed in order to reach the Southern Ocean before the start of the whaling season in November, which led to a number of faults developing in the ship as she sailed through the Bay of Biscay and she had to put into Dartmouth for repairs and modifications which took two months. She made her final departure on September 24 and reached Cape Town on December 20, having stopped only at Ascension Island. She resupplied and took on cargo and mail to be delivered to Tristan da Cunha on her way to South Georgia. During all her movements beyond this point the Discovery stopped regularly to take oceanographic surveys which could take up to six hours to complete at each pre-set position.
The ship reached South Georgia on February 20 and was based there for two months while her crew of scientists and seamen worked alongside the whalers, both on shore at Grytviken and at sea, examining the remains of the caught and processed whales and observing their numbers and movements. Discovery itself made hydrographic and oceanographic surveys of the seas around South Georgia and surveys of the poorly-charted island itself and its wildlife were also made. Due to her delayed departure from Britain these voyages were made in the depths of the South Atlantic winter and the ship's excessive roll, high windage and limited engine power all caused difficulties in her work. On April 17, 1926 Discovery left Grytviken and sailed for the Falkland Islands before returning to Cape Town on June 29, having taken five weeks to make the eastbound voyage in heavy seas while carrying out her research work. The difficulties encountered led to Discovery being placed in dry dock at the Simon's Town naval base for three months to be fitted with bilge keels to improve her stability. For the same reason her foremast topgallant and all the yards and topmasts on the mainmast were removed to reduce the weight she carried high up and 'stiffen' the ship. Her donkey boiler, mounted in the forecastle, was removed for the same reason.
For the next season of work Discovery was joined by the British government's brand new purpose-built research steamer, the RRS William Scoresby. She returned to South Georgia on December 15, with her crew finding the alterations had greatly improved her seakeeping and reduced the pronounced roll. She carried out a plankton survey of the surrounding seas until February 1927, when she headed to the South Shetland Islands, where she carried out a programme to 'tag' whales in order to track their movements. In March Discovery visited Deception Island, which at the time served as a natural harbour to eight large factory ships for further studies. During the southern winter the ship travelled down the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, carrying out surveys to draw and correct nautical charts. Discovery Sound was explored and surveyed for the first time and was named after the ship. She was at Cape Renard on March 24, before working back north to Deception Island, still taking regular oceanographic surveys and biological samples. Discovery was the first ship to take oceanographic readings in the stormy and dangerous Drake Passage, including one survey station just a few miles off Cape Horn. This sequence provided the missing data to construct the first complete view of the Antarctic currents. After anchoring off the Hermite Islands and transiting the Le Maire Strait, Discovery anchored at Port Stanley on May 6, 1927. A final surveying trip was made back to Cape Town before the expedition's work was concluded and Discovery sailed for Britain. She arrived at Falmouth on September 29, 1927.
Her research role continued when the British Government lent her to the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE). She served in this duty from 1929 until 1931.
Boy Scouts/Sea Cadet CorpsEdit
Returning to Britain, her research days now over, Discovery was laid up until 1936 when she was presented to the Boy Scouts Association as a static training ship for Sea Scouts in London. She was kept at a mooring in the centre of London on the Victoria Embankment near Westminster Bridge.
During the Second World War Discovery served as the headquarters and depot ship for the River Emergency Service, a network of first aid stations and 'floating amblulances' using requesitioned pleasure craft. In 1941 a barrage balloon broke its moorings and became entangled in ship's main course yardarm. When the balloon was cut free it was found that the yard was rotten and all the yards and spars were removed. In 1943 her boilers and machinery were removed. Previously it was thought these had been scrapped to provide material for the war effort, but in 2016 a 1943 advert by a salvage firm was found offering the entire contents of the engine room for sale as a single lot, suggesting the equipment was removed for reuse although its ultimate fate is unknown. To maintain the ship's trim and stability with the loss of her machinery the bilges and shaft tunnel were filled with ballast in the form of small rocks (shingle). The former engine space became a mess hall and the boiler room and coal bunkers became a classroom. During the Festival of Britain in the summer of 1951 (held at South Bank just across the river from Discovery's mooring), the ship hosted an exhibition on Antarctica and the history of its exploration. This required opening much of the existing crew quarters as public exhibition space and the former water tanks were removed and replaced with new crew quarters.
In the 1950s the ageing ship proved too costly for the Scouts Association to maintain she was transferred to the Admiralty in 1954 and formally commissioned as HMS Discovery for use as a drill ship for the Royal Navy Auxiliary Reserve and also training ship for the Westminster Sea Cadet Corps. The RN carried out another refitting which saw virtually all the remaining accommodation and fittings from the ship's original 1900 build and the 1923 Vospers rebuild removed or remodelled. As the years passed, her condition deteriorated and when no longer of use to the Navy, she was in danger of being scrapped. The Maritime Trust, into whose care she passed in 1979, saved her from the breakers yard. Her future secured, she was berthed first on the River Thames next to HMS Chrysanthemum and HMS President, and later in St Katharine Docks. During this time, she remained the home and training ship of the Westminster Sea Cadet Corps. Despite significant superficial deterioration and some rotten timbers in her outer and upper hull, Discovery was found to be sound below the waterline and structurally solid. She reverted to the Royal Research Ship (RRS) designation and was open to the public as a museum. The Sea Cadets unit eventually relocated to on-shore premises in Pimlico situated in the converted basement of a local council estate. The Maritime Trust spent some £500,000 on essential restoration until she was passed into the ownership of the Dundee Heritage Trust in 1985.
Discovery Point, DundeeEdit
On 28 March 1986, Discovery left London aboard the cargo ship Happy Mariner to make her journey home to the city that built her. She arrived on the River Tay on 3 April. Moved to a custom built dock in 1992, Discovery is now the centrepiece of Dundee's visitor attraction Discovery Point. She is displayed in a purpose-built dock, in a configuration as near as possible to her 1923 state, when she was refitted in the Vosper yard at Portsmouth. She is listed as part of the National Historic Fleet. Discovery Point is a fully accredited museum and has won numerous national awards, as well as being a 5 star rated tourist attraction with Visit Scotland. In 2008, Discovery and the associated polar collections were named as a Recognised Collection of National Significance.
Since the 1990s, the Discovery Point museum has concentrated on interpreting the vessel on all of her voyages, with personal items from the ship's crew as well as information on her scientific activities. Items range from the games played by the crew on her first expedition to examples of sea fauna. Star objects on display including Captain Scott's rifle and pipe. Her three main voyages, the National Antarctic Expedition (1901–1904), the Discovery Oceanographic Expedition (1925–1927) and the BANZARE expedition (1929–31), are all explored in the museum through film and photographic evidence with artefacts from each era represented. The museum also holds other pieces from Scott's subsequent Terra Nova expedition and Shackleton's Endurance expedition.
There have been three subsequent royal research ships named Discovery, RRS Discovery II (1929) and the third-named RRS Discovery (1962). A fourth ship is the current RRS Discovery, which was built in 2013.
The spaceship Discovery One in Arthur C. Clarke's book 2001: A Space Odyssey was named by Clarke after RRS Discovery; Clarke used to eat his lunch aboard her, as she was moored near the office where he worked in London.
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