Antarctic Relief Expeditions 1902-04
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The Antarctic Relief Expeditions consisted of two voyages undertaken to aid the British National Antarctic Expedition. The first, consisting of the vessel Morning, sailed from New Zealand in 1902 and was intended to resupply the expedition and provide help if needed. The second sailed in 1903 with two ships, Morning accompanied by the Terra Nova, and was to facilitate the safe return of the expedition.
The British National Antarctic Expedition, often known as the Discovery Expedition, was organised by a joint committee of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, though the real driving force behind the venture was the secretary of the RGS, Sir Clements Markham. He secured funding for the expedition from the two societies, private donations and the government. He also deemed that the expedition, though in essence one of scientific investigation, would be under the command of a Navy man, Commander Robert Falcon Scott.
Scott sailed from London in August 1901 on the Discovery, which had been purpose built for the expedition. He was to carry out scientific investigations and geographical exploration over two seasons, possibly three if funding would allow. There is some confusion as to whether the official plans provided for the Discovery to overwinter. In Scott's official account of the expedition he stated he did not intend to overwinter, but he was certainly looking for a suitable site as he sailed into McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea. Markham definitely wanted Scott to spend the winter on Antarctica, instructing Scott to leave messages at preordained sites indicating where he was planning to establish a land base. Markham also set about organizing a relief ship as soon as the Discovery sailed from London. Again, confusion reigned as to whether a relief vessel was part of the official plans, but for Markham a relief vessel was essential if the Discovery was to overwinter. He could remember the criticism leveled at the government for not sending a relief ship which, many believed, would have saved the Franklin Expedition, lost attempting to find the North West Passage in the Arctic in the 1850s.
Whatever the true explanation, there were not enough funds available to finance a relief vessel, so Markham set about raising the money, launching an appeal in October 1901. The government refused to help and the bulk of the money was eventually provided by the RGS. Markham appointed William Colbeck to lead the relief expedition. He was a master on passenger vessels but had distinguished himself on the Southern Cross expedition which had landed on Antarctica in 1898, being given the Back award by the RGS for his scientific and navigational work. A whaling vessel, the Morgenen (renamed the Morning), was purchased in Norway and sailed from London in July 1902. Colbeck's instructions were to resupply the Discovery and to give rescue help if needed. He was also to conduct meteorological observations and undertake a study of ocean fauna. Once the Discovery was reached Colbeck was to put himself under Scott's command and the two vessels were then to sail to New Zealand.
The Morning sailed from Lyttleton in New Zealand on 6 December 1902. Two new islands were discovered on the voyage south before Cape Adare was reached on 8 January and the first message from Scott was discovered. On 23 January the masts of the Discovery were sighted, but she was trapped in ten miles of ice. Attempts by the Morning to smash through the ice failed and, after resupplying Scott's expedition, Colbeck set sail for New Zealand on 2 March 1903, his crew bolstered by members of Scott's group including Ernest Shackleton, deemed unfit after a failed attempt to reach the Pole. The Morning only just escaped being trapped in the ice and survived numerous storms before arriving back in Lyttleton on 25 March 1903.
Markham assessed the perilous position of the Discovery immediately the Morning arrived in New Zealand, and decided a second relief expedition was needed. Funding again proved a problem until the government relented and agreed to finance the expedition, provided the Admiralty was put in sole charge of the operation. Colbeck would command the expedition and two vessels were to be used, the Morning being unable to accommodate all of Scott's men in the event of the abandonment of the Discovery. The whaling vessel Terra Nova was purchased and, captained by Henry MacKay, joined the Morning in Australia. On 5 December 1903 the two ships set sail from Hobart. Arriving at Ross Island in MacMurdo Sound on 8 January, they found 18 miles of ice separated them from the Discovery. For over seven weeks attempts were made to smash through the ice. Eventually, through a combination of detonations and ice breaking with the boats, and aided by unseasonal storms, the Discovery was finally freed in mid February. The three vessels arrived back in New Zealand on 1 April 1904.
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