Scottish National Antarctic Expedition

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The Scotia in the ice off Laurie Island 1903–1904

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition ( SNAE , German about Scottish National Antarctic Expedition ) led by William Speirs Bruce explored parts of the Antarctic in the years 1902–1904. Robert Falcon Scott's competing Discovery expedition was more prestigious, but the SNAE also had a program of exploration and science. Her successes include the establishment of the first manned weather station in Antarctica and the discovery of new land in the east of the Weddell Sea . The large collection of biological and geological specimens, along with those of Bruce's previous trips, resulted in the establishment of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in 1906.

Bruce had spent most of the 1890s on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic , and was Britain's most experienced polar explorer by 1899 . In March of that year he also applied for the Discovery Expedition; his proposal to extend the working radius of the expedition with a second ship into the Weddell Sea was rejected by the President of the Royal Geographical Society , Clements Markham , because he feared a rivalry within the expedition. Therefore, SNAE operated as an independent and privately financed company.

The expedition has been described as "by far the most cost-effective and carefully planned scientific expedition of the Golden Age ". Despite this, Bruce never received any formal honors or recognition from the UK government and participants were denied the prestigious Polar Medal due to heavy lobbying . The SNAE was the last expedition under Bruce's leadership, but he continued to make regular excursions to the Arctic. Unlike those by Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen, however, his research soon lost public interest. A permanent legacy of the SNAE is the Orcadas station , which has been permanently manned since it was built in 1903.


During his years as a medical student, Bruce acquired his knowledge of the natural sciences and oceanography by studying summer courses from the renowned tutors Patrick Geddes and John Arthur Thomson . He also volunteered for oceanographer John Murray , helping him classify samples collected during the Challenger Expedition . In 1892 Bruce dropped out of medical school and joined the Dundee Whaling Expedition . Upon his return he began organizing his own expedition to South Georgia , but was unable to raise funds for his project. He then worked at a weather station on the summit of Ben Nevis before he traveled to Franz Josef Land as a scientific assistant with the Jackson Harmsworth Expedition . Between 1897 and 1899 he made further trips to the Arctic to Spitzbergen and Novaya Zemlya . The first tour was private and organized by Andrew Coats , the second was a scientist on the research vessel Princess Alice . This ship belonged to Prince Albert of Monaco , a renowned oceanographer who became a friend and supporter of Bruce.

Antarctica map

On his return he wrote a long letter to the Royal Geographical Society in London in 1899, in which he applied for a scientific post on the great Antarctic expedition (later referred to as the Discovery Expedition ), which the RGS was preparing at the time. His recent experience made it "unlikely that there was any better qualified person in the British Isles at the time". Bruce's letter, which detailed its qualities, was recognized, but only really answered after more than a year. By this point, Bruce's expectations of a junior post on the scientific staff had shifted. He now wanted a second Scottish-funded ship to operate in the Weddell Sea while the flagship was to sail in the Ross Sea . This proposal was described as "harmful" by the President of the RGS, Clements Markham, and after a correspondence Bruce declared that he wanted to act independently. In this way the idea of ​​a Scottish National Antarctic Expedition was born. Bruce was supported by the wealthy Coats family, who wanted to cover much of the cost of a Scottish expedition under his leadership. In doing so, however, he had also drawn Markham's enmity.


The Scottish Saltire was the emblem of the expedition


In the autumn of 1901 Bruce bought the Hekla , a Norwegian whaler, for £ 2,620 (around £ 280,000 in 2020) . In the following months the ship was rebuilt and got two laboratories, a darkroom and a lot of special equipment. Two large cable drums, each with 6000 threads (approx. 11,000 meters) of cable, were attached to the deck in order to be able to collect samples with trawls in the deep sea. There was additional equipment for plumbing , collecting seawater and soil samples, and meteorological and magnetic observations. The hull was massively reinforced to withstand the pressure of the Antarctic ice. In addition, the ship was the barque rigged and got auxiliary motors. This work brought the cost to £ 16,700 (around £ 1,820,000 in 2020) but was borne entirely by the Coats, who paid a total of £ 30,000 of the £ 36,000 expedition cost. Eventually the Hekla was renamed Scotia and in August 1902 was ready for her sea voyages.


Six people, including Bruce, formed the scientific staff of the expedition. As a zoologist , David Walter Wilton (1872-1940) was on board, who like Bruce had already been a member of the Jackson-Hamsworth Arctic Expedition. During his years in Northern Russia he had learned to use skis and sledges . Robert Neal Rudmose-Brown (1879-1957), who was a former assistant in the British Museum's botanical department , was the expedition's botanist . James Hunter Harvie Pirie (1878-1965), who had just completed his medical degree at the University of Edinburgh , was the bacteriologist , geologist and doctor of the expedition. Robert Cockburn Mossman (1870–1940) directed the meteorological and magnetic work, and the medical student Alastair Ross (1881 – unknown) was supposed to preserve animal bodies .

Bruce appointed Thomas Robertson (1854-1918) captain of the Scotia . Robertson was a skilled navigator in Arctic and Antarctic waters; so he had already had command of the whaler Active of the Dundee Whaling Expedition (1892-1893). The remainder of the 25 officers and men recruited for three years were Scots. Many of them were used to sailing in the Arctic Ocean from whaling trips.


The objectives of the expedition were published in the Scottish Geographical Magazine and the RGS Geographical Journal in October 1902 . They included the establishment of a winter station “as close to the South Pole as possible”, exploration of the Atlantic Ocean also in the deep sea and the systematic observation and research of the meteorological, geological, biological and topographical conditions. The Scottish character of the expedition was highlighted in The Scotsman shortly before its departure : “The guide and all scientific and nautical members of the expedition are Scots; most of the donations were collected on this side of the border; it [the expedition] is a product of voluntary efforts and unlike the expedition, which is supposed to explore Antarctica at the same time, it did not need any help from the government. "


First journey (1902-03)

The Scotia left Troon on November 2, 1902. On their way to the south put them in the ports of Dun Laoghaire , Funchal and Cape Verde , before they tried in vain to the tropical Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago to land. This attempt almost cost the geologist and doctor James Havie Pirie his life because he had miscalculated when jumping overboard and plunging into the shark-populated sea. The Scotia reached Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands on January 6, 1903 , where they replenished their supplies for the upcoming trip to Antarctica.

On January 26th, the Scotia set sail for Antarctic waters. On February 3, she encountered thick pack ice 40 kilometers north of the South Orkney Islands, which forced the ship to change course. The next day, the Scotia was able to advance further south and drop a small group on Saddle Island , where they collected a large number of botanical and geological samples. The ice prevented further progress until February 10th, after which it continued south. On February 17, the Scotia was at 64 ° 18 'south latitude and five days later crossed the 70th parallel in the Weddell Sea. A short time later, new ice forced Robertson to turn back, who had reached 70 ° 25′S.

After the expedition found no land, the question arose of where to hibernate. This question was urgent as the sea would soon freeze over and there was a risk that the ship could get stuck in the ice. Bruce decided to return to the South Orkneys to find an anchorage there. The Southern Orkneys were contrary to his stated goal of wintering as far south as possible, as they are more than 3,200 km from the South Pole. Still, a northerly position had advantages. Because of the relatively short time the ship would have frozen, there would be more time for fishing and dredging in early spring. In addition, the islands seemed well suited as a location for a weather station, because their relative proximity to the South American mainland also made it possible to operate a permanently manned station.

After a month of arduous sailing, the Scotia reached the islands. After several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable anchorage and with a rudder damaged by the ice, the ship found a sheltered bay on the south coast of Laurie Island, the easternmost island in the island chain. On March 25, the ship anchored a quarter of a mile offshore. It was then quickly made winter-proof: the engines were dismantled, the boilers emptied, and the deck was covered with canvas. Bruce then set up an extensive work plan that included meteorological measurements and the collection of marine, botanical, biological and geological samples. The most important task fulfilled during this time was the construction of a stone building, which according to Robert Omond, director of the Observatory of Edinburgh was called and supporters of the expedition, "Omond House". It should be the shelter for the men who would be left on Laurie Island to run the weather station. The building was built using local materials as dry stone masonry . The roof was a makeshift construction made of wood and canvas . The finished house offered space for six people, had the floor plan of a square with an edge length of six meters and two windows. Rudmose Brown wrote: “When you consider that we had neither mortar nor masonry utensils, it turned out to be a perfectly acceptable and very durable house. I think it will stand for another century ... "

In general, the team was in excellent health, with the exception of Allan Ramsay, the Scotia stoker , who had suffered from heart disease since his stay in the Falkland Islands. He wanted to stay with the expedition, but became weaker and weaker as the winter progressed until he died on August 6 and was buried on the island.

When spring broke through, activities picked up again and many dog sledding tours were made, including to neighboring islands. A wooden hut was built to measure the magnetic field, and the Union Jack and the Scottish St. Andrew's cross were hoisted on top of a three-meter-high stone pyramid . The Scotia was made seaworthy again, but was still trapped in the ice in September and October until strong winds broke the ice in the bay on November 23 and the Scotia could leave. Four days later she set off for Port Stanley , leaving six men under the leadership of Robert Mossman at Omond House.

Buenos Aires (1903-04)

Map of Laurie Island with the location of Orcadas Station , the former Omond House (French)

On December 2, the expedition docked in Port Stanley, where the crew heard news from the rest of the world for the first time. After a week's break, the Scotia set course for Buenos Aires , where it was to be repaired and equipped for another season. Bruce had other business to do in town; he wanted to get the Argentine government to take responsibility for the weather station on Laurie Island after the expedition returned home. During the voyage to Buenos Aires, the Scotia ran aground in the estuary of the Río de la Plata and lay there for several days before it was released again and on December 24th was maneuvered into port by a tug.

For the next four weeks the ship was in dry dock and Bruce negotiated with the Argentine government about the future of the weather station. He was supported by the British resident , the British consul and WG Davis, the director of the Argentine weather service. The Foreign Office , which was telegraphed , raised no concerns about the plan. On January 20, 1904, he signed an agreement according to which three scientific assistants of the Argentine government should initially work for a year under Robert Mossman on the station; it should be the first stage of an annual consultation. He then formally handed the Omond House over to the Argentine government, including its furnishings, supplies and all magnetic and meteorological measuring instruments. The weather station, renamed Orcadas Station , has been in operation since then and has been rebuilt and expanded several times.

Some members of the original crew left the expedition while it was in Buenos Aires. Some had to return home for health reasons, and one man was expelled for misconduct. Her replacement was recruited in the region. On January 21, the Scotia drove back to Laurie Island, where it arrived on February 14. After removing the crew for the weather station, which was picked up by the Argentine gunboat Uruguay a year later , the Scotia set sail a week later for her second voyage to the Weddell Sea.

Second trip (1904)

The Coatsland coast , discovered by the SNAE in March 1904. The photo was taken in 1915 on Ernest Shackleton's expedition

The Scotia sailed a south-easterly course into the eastern Weddell Sea in calm weather. She did not encounter any pack ice until she crossed the Arctic Circle , so advancing was easy until she was stopped by thick pack ice on March 3 at 72 ° 18'S, 17 ° 59'W. A sounding out revealed a water depth of 1,131 fathoms (2,068 m) compared to the previous 2,500 fathoms, from which it was concluded that it was approaching land. A few hours later, the expedition encountered a barrier made of ice that prevented progress to the southeast. Over the next few days, the ice edge was followed for around 240 kilometers south. The measured water depth of 159 fathoms (291 m) four kilometers from the ice edge indicated the incipient mainland behind the ice sheet. (, P. 121) The outlines of this land mass soon became faint and Bruce named the country after its most important sponsors (the Coats family) " Coatsland ". The Coatsland discovery was the first indication of the eastern boundary of the Weddell Sea, suggesting that the sea could be much smaller than previously thought. The originally planned trip of a group of sleds to Coatsland was canceled by Bruce because of the condition of the sea ​​ice .

The bagpiper Kerr plays for a penguin.

On March 9, 1904, the Scotia reached the southernmost point of her voyage at a latitude of 74 ° 01'S. At this point, the ship was quickly enclosed by pack ice and there was a risk of being held on for the winter. During this period of inactivity, the photo was taken of the bagpiper Gilbert Kerr serenading a penguin. However, the ship was released on March 13th and slowly moved northeast under steam. During this part of the voyage, a comprehensive report on the oceanographic and marine living conditions in the Weddell Sea was created using depth measurements, net fishing and the collection of soil samples .

On the way back to Cape Town , the Scotia stopped at Gough Island in the Atlantic. The island had never been visited by a group of scientists before. On April 21, Bruce and five other men spent a day there collecting samples. The ship then continued to Cape Town, where it arrived on May 6th. After further research in the Saldanha Bay area , the Scotia sailed back home on May 24th. The last two ports called were St. Helena and Ascension .

Homecoming and aftermath

The expedition entered the Clyde with the Scotia on July 21, 1904 , where they received a warm welcome. A formal reception for 400 people was held in the University Marine Biological Station building in Millport and John Murray read out a telegram congratulating King Edward VII. Bruce was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Scottish Society, and Captain Robertson a silver medal.

A major achievement of the expedition was the cataloging of more than 1,100 animal species, 212 of which were previously unknown. Yet there was no official recognition from London, where, under the influence of Markham , the SNAE tended to be either ignored or portrayed in a bad light. None of its members received the prestigious polar medal , but several members of the Discovery Expedition, which returned two months after the Scotia . These medals were also awarded after each of Ernest Shackleton's expeditions and after Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition . Bruce fought for years against this outrageous injustice against his country and the expedition, but was unsuccessful. Some of the London establishment's reservations about the SNAE may also be attributed to Bruce's Scottish nationalism, which is also reflected in his foreword to Rudmose Brown's story of the expedition: “While science was the talisman of the expedition, it was Scotland's flag; and possibly in an effort to serve humanity by adding one more link to the golden chain of science, we have shown that the Scottish nation is a power to be reckoned with. "

An important consequence of the expedition was the establishment of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in Edinburgh , which was formally opened in 1906 by Prince Albert of Monaco . The laboratory served several purposes: as a repository for the large collection of biological, zoological and geological samples that came together during the Scotia and Bruce's previous trips to the Arctic and Antarctic, as a place where the SNAE's scientific reports could be prepared, as Headquarters where polar researchers could meet ( Nansen , Amundsen and Shackleton visited the laboratory) and as a planning point for other Scottish polar research companies. Although he continued his trips to the Arctic for scientific and economic reasons, Bruce never led an Antarctic expedition again as his plans to cross the continent were thwarted by lack of funds. It took years to complete the SNAE's scientific reports. Most were published between 1907 and 1920, but the last was not published until 1992. The proposal to convert the laboratory into a permanent Scottish Oceanographic Institute was not implemented and Bruce was finally forced to close the laboratory for financial reasons in 1919. He died two years later at the age of 54.

At that time, even in Scotland, the Scotia expedition was hardly remembered . It is overshadowed by the more famous expeditions of Scott and Shackleton. In the history books it is often mentioned only incidentally or dealt with in a footnote without going into further details of its successes. Bruce lacked charisma and made a bad impression on the public ("... as prickly as the Scottish thistle itself," a long-time friend said of him), but he had a tendency to make powerful enemies. Still, the expedition had completed a more extensive program than any of the previous or subsequent Antarctic expeditions.

During the First World War , the Scotia was confiscated and used as a freighter. On January 18, 1916, she caught fire and burned out on a sandbar in the Bristol Channel . In 2003, a hundred years after Bruce, a modern expedition used the data gathered by the SNAE to study climate change in South Georgia over the past century. The expedition assured that their contribution to the climate debate was a fitting testament to the SNAE's pioneering research.

See also


  • Erskin, AB and Kjaer, KG: The Polar Ship Scotia . In: Cambridge University Press (ed.): Polar Record . 41, No. 2, 2005, pp. 131-140. Retrieved May 25, 2008.
  • Ranulph Fiennes : Captain Scott. Hodder & Stoughton, London 2003, ISBN 0-340-82697-5 .
  • Elpeth Huxley: Scott of the Antarctic. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1977, ISBN 0-297-77433-6 .
  • Measuring Worth . Institute for the Measurement of Worth. Retrieved July 12, 2008.
  • Rudmose Brown, RN, Pirie, JH and Mossman, RC: The Voyage of the Scotia. Mercat Press, Edinburgh 2002, ISBN 1-84183-044-5 .
  • Peter Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. NMS Publishing, Edinburgh 2003, ISBN 1-901663-71-X .

Web links

Commons : Scottish National Antarctic Expedition  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 14-15.
  2. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 24-25.
  3. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 31-34.
  4. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 42-45.
  5. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 46-51.
  6. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 52-58.
  7. a b Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 69-70.
  8. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 71-74.
  9. Goodlad, James A.: Scotland and the Antarctic, Section 5: Voyage of the Scotia - the voyage south . Glasgow Digital Library. 2003. Retrieved May 12, 2008.
  10. a b c d e Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 75-76 and 79.
  11. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 7-9.
  12. ^ Rudmose-Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 10-11.
  13. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 29.
  14. a b See Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 77–78 for the complete team list.
  15. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 80.
  16. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 15-20.
  17. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 20-21.
  18. ^ Goodlad, James A .: Voyage of the Scotia 1902-04: The voyage south . 2003. Retrieved August 12, 2008.
  19. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 24.
  20. a b c d Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 28-33.
  21. ^ A b Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 34.
  22. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 57.
  23. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 36-37.
  24. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 45.
  25. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 46-50.
  26. ^ Voyage of the Scotia 1902-04: The Antarctic . Glasgow Digital Library. Retrieved May 25, 2008.
  27. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 85.
  28. a b c Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 88-89.
  29. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 76.
  30. a b c d Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 90-92.
  31. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 96-98.
  32. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 10.
  33. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 118-20.
  34. a b c d Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 120-123.
  35. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 121.
  36. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 93.
  37. Rudmose / Brown / Pierce: "The Voyage of the Scotia" . pp. 238-241
  38. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. 122.
  39. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 123-26.
  40. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. Pp. 132-34.
  41. a b Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 95.
  42. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 9.
  43. William Speirs Bruce, 1867-1821, polar explorer and oceanographer: Biography . Navigational Aids for the History of Science, Technology & the Environment. Archived from the original on May 4, 2003. Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  44. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 123.
  45. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 125-31.
  46. ^ Rudmose Brown: The Voyage of the Scotia. P. Xiii.
  47. a b c d Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Pp. 97-101.
  48. Speak: William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. P. 133.
  49. Erskin, AB and Kjaer, KG: The Polar Ship Scotia in journal Polar Record . Cambridge University Press. Pp. 131-140. 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2008.
  50. ^ Collingridge, Vanessa: Diary of Climate Change . May 9, 2003. Retrieved June 3, 2008.


  1. Dún Laoghaire was known under the British name Kingstown at the time.