HMS Terra Nova (‘New Ground’) is rightly best remembered for conveying Captain Scott’s crew to Antarctica for his second and final expedition there. But ships, like people, typically have messy, uneventful stretches of life, punctuated by one or two defining experiences. What else was HMS Terra Nova involved in?
In 1884, HMS Terra Nova was built in Dundee shipyards, renowned for turning out hardy whalers and sealers. The ship was pressed into ten years of sealing service in the Labrador Sea, part of the North Atlantic. She cut her teeth as a relief vessel in 1897, when the Jackson-Harmsworth survey crew required rescue. This expedition was founded on the belief that land extended to the North Pole, but its mapping exercises established that the Arctic region is archipelagic; the Northern-most island at 81°N. Shortly after, the ship was bought by a Liverpool shipping company, operating from Newfoundland (Bowring Brothers Limited). It resumed its sealing functions.
HMS Terra Nova setting sail from Cardiff in 1910 (Picture credit: BBC)
In 1904, HMS Morning was sent to relieve Captain Scott’s Antarctic icebound HMS Discovery with coal supplies for the voyage home. To Captain Scott’s dismay, an unwelcome second relief ship was sent, HMS Terra Nova, because the government of the day were anxious for the Discovery mission to be ended conclusively, and there was no way of knowing from afar if the Discovery would remain icebound. Expenses had spiralled out of control. Had HMS Terra Nova not been dispatched, too, Captain Scott had intended to overwinter for another year, since food supplies would easily last that long.
In 1909, HMS Terra Nova was purchased for the British Antarctic Expedition (the Terra Nova Expedition). Seven feet of oak reinforcement from bow to stern was installed in anticipation of icy conditions. Laden with about 500 tonnes of provisions, she set sail from Cardiff on 15 June 1910. Such a generous proportion of private sponsorship came from Cardiff that HMS Terra Nova that Captain Scott re-registered Cardiff as her home port and she flew the Welsh flag all the way to Cape Evans, Antarctica.
HMS Terra Nova's masthead, as it was displayed in Roath Park, Cardiff (Picture credit: BBC)
60 000 people joined Captain Scott’s widow and son welcomed the ship at Bute Dock when it returned. In 1913, HMS Terra Nova was repurchased by Bowring Brothers Ltd and returned to sealing. In 1942, she was chartered to convey supplies to base stations in Greenland, but unfortunately, the following year, she was damaged and sank by ice off Greenland. The crew were safely evacuated by the US Coast Guard
It’s estimated that 800 000 seal pelts were caught from HMS Terra Nova’s deck, all in all - a gruesome tally to the vegetarian likes of me. The binnacle is preserved in the Pierhead Bulding, Cardiff Bay, from where Captain Scott set sail in 1910. The figurehead was removed in 1913 and is in storage at the Museum of Wales . The bell (removed in 1913) was given to the Scott Polar Research Institute, and used as a tea bell – rung five times in the morning and eight times in the afternoon, in the naval tradition.