Tag Archives: shantyman

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.