Dundee’s RRS Discovery awarded over £400,000 for urgent repair work

World’s first polar research ship safeguarded thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund 

RRS Discovery, the world’s first ship to be designed specifically for scientific research and the sole survivor from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, has been safeguarded from critical deterioration thanks to £409,000 funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. 

RRS Discovery is the pride of Dundee and the jewel in the crown of our historic waterfront, which is now a major tourist destination attracting visitors from around the globe 

Ship seen from the side
The RSS Discovery. Credit: Dundee Heritage Trust

Urgent repair work to secure the ship’s future

Specialists recently found that the fabric of RRS Discovery has deteriorated, as is common with a wooden ship of this age. An estimated £1.3m of work was needed to prevent further damage and to secure its future as an internationally acclaimed visitor attraction. 
  
The grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund will be used to address repairs including:

  • timbers in the ship's stern which are in an advanced state of degradation, affecting structural integrity 
  • the stanchions or supports along the portside, which are in poor condition, resulting in rainwater leaking into the hull
  • recaulking, to ensure the ship is watertight
Decay to wood inside a ship
Decay in sail locker 1. Credit: Dundee Heritage Trust

The pride of Dundee

RRS Discovery was built in Dundee in 1900 for Captain Robert Falcon Scott's first Antarctic expedition. The ground-breaking science carried out on this, and a number of later expeditions, produced critical benchmark data and technological innovations that are still used by climate and environmental scientists today.   

RRS Discovery is one of the last wooden three-masted sailing ships to be built in Britain and the only example of the type to survive. The vessel was built in Dundee because of the city's expertise in constructing strong whaling ships and was designed to withstand the ice-packed areas of the Antarctic.  

Ship surrounded by ice
RSS Discovery locked in ice. Credit: Dundee Heritage Trust. 


The historic ship returned to the city in 1986, greeted by thousands of people lining the docks and remains a much-loved, iconic presence on Dundee’s waterfront. It is officially recognised as one of the country's most important historic ships as well as being the only polar research vessel in the UK's National Historic Fleet.  

Jim Pettigrew, Chair of Dundee Heritage Trust, said: “RRS Discovery is the pride of Dundee and the jewel in the crown of our historic waterfront, which is now a major tourist destination attracting visitors from around the globe.

"This essential conservation work is also an important step towards our £12m plans to redevelop Discovery Point, with a major fundraising campaign taking place to secure the remaining investment needed to make this possible.” 

Children on a boat
Children on the Discovery. Credit: Dundee Heritage Trust


Dr Simon Thurley, Chair, National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “We are delighted to support this essential preservation work to RRS Discovery, a ship of national importance in Scotland and the UK. 

The National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to safeguard some of our finest heritage at risk of loss.

"The National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to safeguard some of our finest heritage at risk of loss, and thanks to our support of £409,000 RRS Discovery will continue to be an important draw to visitors to Dundee’s historic waterfront. The ship joins the many hundreds of important and much-loved treasures that can be seen and enjoyed across the UK thanks to the National Heritage Memorial Fund.” 

Group of people standing on a ship
Officers and scientists aboard the RSS Discovery, 1901.

Dundee University’s Dr Simon Cook, an expert in Geographical and Environmental Science, said: “As the world’s first scientific research ship, RRS Discovery occupies a unique position in the history of climate change science. It is very fitting that this funding is being announced as Scotland prepares to host COP26, 100 years after Captain Scott and his crew first ventured to the uncharted Antarctic wilderness, setting a benchmark for scientific discovery that is still important to this day. 
 
“Today, satellites are one of the most important tools for learning about climate change in Antarctica, but we lack data from before the advent of satellite technology. Observations made in the RRS Discovery’s ship logs about sea ice extent, for example, are still being used today to understand longer term changes in ice cover and the climate of this region.”