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by Michael Smith

Discovery is the most distinguished British ship to survive from the Heroic Age of Polar exploration at the turn of the 20th century. Like Norway's Fram, Discovery is now an impressive permanent museum at Dundee, Scotland and well worth a visit.

The ship, which was built at Dundee, celebrates its centenary in 2001 with a host of events. These include lectures, book launches, fund-raising and a special descendants gathering over the weekend of August 4-5 when relatives of the early explorers will gather on board the ship.

Discovery was a purpose-built ice-ship to carry the British National Antarctic expedition to the South in 1901. She was launched on the River Tay on March 21, 1901 and sailed on her maiden voyage to the Antarctic on August 6, 1901. Discovery first caught sight of the mainland on January 8, 1902.

The Discovery expedition was the apprenticeship for British Polar exploration during the Heroic Age, which paved the way for the subsequent exploits of Shackleton and Scott.

The roll-call of men who sailed on Discovery's first voyage is a who's who of the leading figures from the era of British Polar exploration. The men who sailed on Discovery and later travelled on later expeditions were: Robert Falcon Scott, Edward "Bill" Wilson, Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Wild, Edgar "Taff" Evans, Bill Lashly, Ernest Joyce, Thomas Williamson and William Heald.

Other respected names from age who traveled on Discovery were: Louis Bernacchi, Albert Armitage, Michael Barne, Charles Royds and Reginald Skelton.

The ship was purchased by The Hudson's Bay Company in 1905 and adapted for commercial use. She was later sold to the Crown Agents in Britain to help with "scientific research in the South Seas." In 1929-31, Discovery carried the BANZARE expedition under Sir Douglas Mawson to the Antarctic, her last voyage of discovery.

Discovery was laid up for much of the 1930s and later used by Sea Scouts as a training vessel and hostel for young scouts visiting London. In 1979 the ship was handed over to a Maritime Trust and restoration began, leading ultimately to Discovery's final voyage to dry dock at her birthplace of Dundee.

Old ships are particularly vulnerable to decay and considerable work is underway to preserve Discovery for future generations. About �million ($2.85m) has recently been spent on restoration and a further �5 million ($2.1m) is being raised to help with the continuing programme.

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