Steaming south

The journey begins

On 15 June 1910, the ship Terra Nova was given an enthusiastic send off as she left Cardiff. Those on board had a long journey of many months ahead and there would be several stops on the way, not least to try and raise the remaining funds. They had some success, with contributions from both the governments of Australia and New Zealand.

In Australia, Scott also received shocking news. The Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, thought to be on his way to the North Pole, had turned south instead and suddenly Scott had competition. Absorbing the news, Scott pressed on to New Zealand, the expedition’s final stop before Antarctica.

Terra Nova steaming

Terra Nova
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Life on board

It was a long journey from Britain to Antarctica and most of the expedition’s men would spend months crammed in alongside tonnes of supplies. Everyone on board had to work. Coal had to be shoveled, engines stoked and leaking water pumped back out.

They also had to cope with extreme weather conditions, from the heat of the tropics to the cold of the Antarctic. On the last stretch of the journey the ship ran into a violent storm, having to battle enormous waves. When they finally unloaded the ship at their Antarctic destination, they had been away for nearly seven months. Yet, this was just the beginning of the expedition.

Biologist Dennis Lillie with a sponge specimen
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Francis Drake on the Terra Nova
Drake was the expedition secretary and meteorologist. He was also the deputy postmaster - responsible for processing most of the mail that left Antarctica during the expedition. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Terra Nova inching through the Antarctic pack ice
December 1910 © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Even the ship's cat had a hammock in the fo'castle
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Ponting filming whales from the deck
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Science on the way

On board Terra Nova, no time was wasted. Antarctic expeditions offered scientists the opportunity to gather data in locations other than Antarctica, and wherever the ship went, scientific investigation took place.

Magnetic and meteorological observations were gathered throughout, and atmospheric electricity, water salinity and temperatures were measured regularly. Tow nets were used to catch marine specimens, while birds, whales and dolphins were carefully observed and recorded in detailed illustrations by Wilson.

On 26 July 1910, they stopped at South Trinidad, an island off the coast of Brazil rich in plants and animals they wanted to investigate. They collected many different animal specimens, including birds, worms, spiders and corals. Several of these proved to be previously unknown species.

"Scientifically it is of interest, not only for the number of new species which may be obtained there, but also for the extraordinary attitude of wild sea birds towards human beings whom they have never learned to fear." - Apsley Cherry-Garrard, on South Trinidad, The Worst Journey in the World
Wilson Dolphin sketches

Illustration of dusky dolphins Lagenorhynchus obscuru, by Edward Wilson, 1910
© The Natural History Museum, London

Last stop New Zealand

The port of Lyttelton, New Zealand, was Terra Nova’s final provisioning and planning stop.

Lyttelton already had strong connections with British Antarctic exploration, having been the departure base for the Discovery and Nimrod expeditions.

Scott and his officers quickly rekindled relationships with friends and supporters, including their local shipping agent and host, Sir Joseph Kinsey, and Canterbury Museum, where the scientists were able to complete last-minute preparations. They also attended receptions, delivered lectures and gave newspaper interviews; still actively seeking financial support for the venture.

Meanwhile, in the port, all of Terra Nova’s provisions were unloaded, inventoried and re-stowed. A troubling leak was repaired, and the men completed a trial setup of the expedition’s two prefabricated huts. Several personnel joined the ship at Lyttelton, including local seamen and the expedition’s photographer, Herbert Ponting.

Four weeks later, everything was ready. With their supplies and spirits boosted by donations from around New Zealand, including 3,000lbs of butter and scores of sides of frozen mutton, Terra Nova departed Lyttelton on the afternoon of 26 November 1910. The ship called at Port Chalmers, further south on the New Zealand coast, to take on additional coal, and from there, on the morning of 29 November, set course for Antarctica.

By 4 January 1911, Terra Nova was anchored off Ross Island in Antarctica, ready for the real work of the expedition to begin.

"I shall leave New Zealand with high hopes of accomplishing the objects of the expedition, but whatever measure of success may reward our efforts, we shall not forget the encouragement which we have received from all parts of the Dominion." - R F Scott, Letter of thanks to the people of New Zealand

Officers and Men aboard Terra Nova in Lyttelton
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Wilson and Harry Pennell salting seal skins
Salting was a method of preserving zoological specimens so that they could be sent back to New Zealand and England for further study. Pennell was the commander and navigator of the Terra Nova, and also an amateur naturalist, who enjoyed helping Wilson with the scientific work. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Terra Nova entering the Antarctic pack ice
10 December 1910 © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

The Terra Nova crew on the fo'castle
Following British Naval tradition, the ship's crew had separate quarters to the officers and expedition staff on the Terra Nova. They were based in the fo'castle, the area at the bow (front) of the ship, where equipment and supplies were also stored. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Captain Oates with the ponies
Lawrence 'Titus' Oates was in charge of the welfare of the expedition's 19 ponies, during the journey south and in Antarctica. He was also part of the group that made the final march to the South Pole with Scott. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Furling the Terra Nova's mainsail in the pack ice
December 1910 © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Manning the ship's pumps in rough weather
December 1910 © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Ponting filming as the Terra Nova breaks through
Ponting was already well known as an adventure photographer, and was always ready to take some calculated risks to make sure he got the best picture. © Canterbury Museum, New Zealand

Dr Wilson shooting from the Terra Nova
© Canterbury Museum, New Zealand