2nd November 1902

Scottish National Antarctic Expedition embarks on an ambitious voyage

“The Scottish National Arctic ship Scotia took her departure from Troon at twelve o’clock yesterday in magnificent weather,” reported The Scotsman on 3 November 1902. “It is the intention of the Scotia to put into Madeira for coal, which the Union Castle Line have kindly presented to the expedition. She will then go to Port Stanley (Falkland Islands) and at that point scientific work will be taken up in connection with fisheries. The expedition expect to be in the ice about the beginning of 1903.”

Scientific exploration

The purpose of the expedition, which would take its members half way around the world, was to perform a range of scientific work. This included establishing the first staffed weather station in the Antarctic (which is now owned and staffed by Argentina), and collecting specimens to study both during the expedition itself and after bringing them back to Scotland. The voyagewas led by William Speirs Bruce, who later founded the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in Edinburgh, which was to provide a home for many of the specimens collected during the expedition.

The Scotia, on which the team sailed, was a converted whaling ship, which had been rebuilt to accommodate laboratories and equipment for gathering samples and making measurements. It was crewed by 26 men and was home to six scientists. Almost all of the expedition’s funding came from Scottish sources.

Weather station soon sold

The weather station that they established in the Antarctic, which was named Ormond House, was built and equipped during the expedition’s first winter in the southern hemisphere. It was initially modest, comprising just a 20ft square building of stone and wood. A few months later, it was joined by a second wooden hut, and the ‘complex’ was sold to Argentina in the January – which, by then, was summer. It has since been renamed Orcadas Base, and expanded with more appropriate buildings over the years. It is still in use and remains permanently staffed.

The expedition didn’t immediately return to Scotland once its first batch of work in the Antarctic was finished. Rather, it remained in the southern hemisphere, sat out the summer, and returned to the Antarctic the following year. From there, it followed a southerly route to South Africa before working a northerly course via the Azores towards home. They arrived back in Scotland in July 1904.

Noisy welcome

On 22 July, the Edinburgh Evening News reported that “in a manner particularly gratifying to all concerned, the Scotia yesterday was welcomed home… Guns were fired, whistles screeched a welcome, ensigns were dipped, and hurrahs rent the air. Millport was en fete, and the explorers’ entry was of a triumphal nature.”

William Spiers Bruce was presented with a Royal Scottish Geographical Society gold medal as he stepped onto the quayside, and the captain was given a gold pennant before the explorers sat down to an al-fresco lunch with those who had come to welcome them home.

Specimens processed

The following day, the Northern Scot and Moray & Nairn Express wrote that “a huge collection of specimens gathered by the explorers has arrived at the Surgeon’s Hall, Edinburgh… There, Mr James Ferrier, the secretary, has got quickly to work, and, with the able assistance of several of the students, had already got the bottles containing the treasures cleaned up and laid out in rows on shelves which have been constructed for the purpose. The consignment, of course, forms but a small portion of what Mr Bruce, the leader of the expedition, has had collected, but even at that they include hundreds of well-filled jars.”

In all, the expedition brought back more than 1000 different species, of which around a fifth were new.



Other events that occured in November

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.