Captain Scott’s Discovery (previous post) wasn’t available for his second, fatal, Antarctic expedition in 1910, forcing him to find the best ship he could afford from a very short list of suitable vessels. He chose the Terra Nova. The expedition’s Second-in-Command, Lieutenant Edward “Teddy” Evans, recalled that – She was the largest and strongest of the old Scotch whalers, had proved herself in the Antarctic pack-ice and acquitted herself magnificently in the Northern ice-fields in whaling and sealing voyages extending over a period of twenty years.
I shall never forget the day I first visited the Terra Nova in the West India Docks : she looked so small and out of place surrounded by great liners and cargo-carrying ships, but I loved her from the day I saw her, because she was my first command. Poor little ship, she looked so dirty and uncared for and yet her name will be remembered for ever in the story of the sea, which one can hardly say in the case of the stately liners which dwarfed her in the docks.
I often blushed when admirals came down to see our ship, she was so very dirty. To begin with, her hold contained large blubber tanks, the stench of whale oil and seal blubber being overpowering, and the remarks of those who insisted on going all over the ship need not be here set down.
Months of hard work delivered Terra Nova – cleaned, disinfected and refitted – ready to depart from London on 1st June 1910.
What a change from the smudgy little lamp-black craft of last November – so much for paint and polish. All the same it was the Terra Nova’s Indian summer. A close search by the technically expert would have revealed scars of age in the little lady, furrows worn in her sides by grinding ice flows, patches in the sails, strengthening pieces in the cross-trees and sad-looking deadeyes and lanyards which plainly told of a bygone age. But the merchant seamen who watched from the dock side were kind and said nothing.
Terra Nova progressed down the Channel coast to the Welsh port of Cardiff where the crew were “endowed with all good things” and welcomed…..with enthusiasm. Free docking, free coal, defects made good for nothing, an office and staff placed at our disposal, in fact everything was done with an open-hearted generosity.
Overloaded with supplies and coal – the little ship settled deeply in the water and the seams, which had up till now been well above the water-line, leaked in a way that augured a gloomy future for the crew in the nature of pumping. With steam up this did not mean anything much, but under sail alone, unless we could locate the leaky seams, it meant half an hour to an hour’s pumping every watch. We found a very leaky spot in the fore peak, which was mostly made good by cementing.
On 15th June we left the United Kingdom after a rattling good time in Cardiff. Many shore boats and small craft accompanied us down the Bristol Channel as far as Breaksea Light Vessel. We hoisted the Cardiff flag at the fore and the Welsh flag at the mizen – some wag pointed to the flag and asked why we had not a leek* under it, and I felt bound to reply that we had a leak in the fore peak! It was a wonderful send-off and we cheered ourselves hoarse.
Captain Scott remained behind to squeeze out more subscriptions and to complete arrangements with the Central News [agency]…. He also had finally to settle magazine and cinematograph contracts which were to help pay for the Expedition…
[Scott would join the ship later at Cape Town]…. we in the ship were much better off with no cares now beyond the handling of our toy ship and her safe conduct to Lyttelton [New Zealand].
In spite of her deeply-laden condition the Terra Nova breasted each wave in splendid form, lifting her toy bowsprit proudly in the air till she reminded me, with her deck cargo, of a little mother with her child upon her back.
‘South With Scott’, Edward R. G. R. Evans, 1921. (Abridged)
*The Welsh national emblem.
Next post – final preparations in New Zealand.