Tag Archives: Ernest Shackleton

Discovering the Seventh Continent, to the call of the Shantyman

Raising the foreyards aboard the 1,500-ton barque-rigged RRS Discovery, base ship for the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition under Australian geologist, Antarctic explorer, and academic, Sir Douglas Mawson, circa 1929 to 1931. Note the shantyman on the accordion as he carefully perches on the head of the capstan and the boatswain with two knives on his belt.

Photo by James Francis “Frank” Hurley OBE, via the State University of South Australia collection.

Built under the supervision of Robert Falcon Scott in 1900-1901 at the cost of £51,000 for the Royal Geographical Society, the 172-foot steamship was registered as a “sailing yacht.”

Besides her chief claim to fame for carrying Scott and Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica on an epic 1,311-day run as soon as she finished her builder’s trials, Discovery went on to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company on a regular summer route through the Canadian polar regions until 1913. Then, laid up in England at the time of the Great War, clocked in carrying munitions to Russia during the conflict and the follow-on Russian Civil War — with time out for an abortive attempt to rescue Shackleton in 1916 that wasn’t needed as Shackleton effectively rescued himself. In the 1920s, she returned to research work, this time for the Crown proper– designated as a Royal Research Ship– after a refit and Mawson’s BANZARE explorations fell into this period.

Besides establishing the Australian Antarctic Territory claims, as noted by the SLA, “Another outcome of BANZARE’s oceanographical program was the demonstration of an undersea land platform which clearly indicated that Antarctica was a continent rather than composed of a series of islands.”

As for Discovery, the end of BANZARE would cap her use as a research ship due to her age and she would languish in London for the rest of the 1930s as a static training ship for Sea Scouts, then serve as a depot ship in the Thames during WWII. Becoming HMS Discovery in the 1950s, she was rebuilt and would continue to serve the Crown as a drill ship for London area naval reservists with a White Ensign on her mast.

Transferred to the Maritime Trust in derelict condition in the 1980s, she would be rebuilt yet again and moved to Dundee, her place of birth, where she has been on display as a museum ship for the past 30 years.

And the capstan is still there, sans shantyman.

Keeping up appearances down South

Last week the 5,000-ton ice patrol ship HMS Protector (A173) [ex-Polarbjørn] called at a place called Grytviken, located on a frozen splinter of land called South Georgia, an isolated British territory far closer to the Antarctic continent than Europe and a base of operations for the British Antarctic Survey.

The place holds two claims to fame, one dating back 100 years ago, where Shackleton (yes, “the” Shackleton) was interred, the other being the 1982 spark that started the Falkland Islands War– during which two different battles were fought for South Georgia. 

Via the Royal Navy:

Sailors from HMS Protector paid tribute to legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton – a century after he died pushing the boundaries of polar research.

Crew of the icebreaker held a memorial service at his graveside on the island of South Georgia – the latest stop for the survey ship as she heads to the frozen continent for a summer of scientific research.

The explorer – a Royal Navy reservist – died after suffering a heart attack aboard his ship Quest at the beginning of an expedition to circumnavigate Antarctica in January 1922.

He was buried in Grytviken cemetery, where Protector’s sailors – dressed in woollen sweaters in keeping with early 20th Century polar explorers – gathered for a service of remembrance to celebrate Shackleton’s achievements.

Importantly, Protector’s crew held their service just three weeks shy of the centennial of Shackleton’s death.

Designed for long Polar expeditions and for supporting subsea work, the Norwegian-built Protector was acquired with just a decade on her hull.

She has several small craft including two with two boats that are equipped with jet drives, GRP hulls, and bow ramps– great for landings in isolated areas

Her name has some teeth to it as she is armed with four GE M134 mini-guns, five GPMGs, and sports a helicopter deck and room for a platoon of Royal Marines who can move around at ease on three embarked Haaglund BV206 snowcats and a quartet of small boats– the largest of which is named after Shackleton’s own James Caird

She has several topside small arms mounts

As well as extensive helicopter facilities. She is carrying two drones for her current mission.

Protector now heads even further South, on to Antarctica.