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Royal Research Ship Discovery critical works begin thanks to National Heritage Memorial Fund support

Dundee Heritage Trust has received £1.4million from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) to help save the Royal Research Ship Discovery. The Trust has announced that urgent conservation works are set to begin on the Royal Research Ship in February 2024.

These urgent works come as the ship approaches its centenary of being officially designated a Royal Research Ship in 1925, and are crucial for the future of the UK’s first purpose-built Antarctic research ship.

Built in Dundee in 1901, Discovery carries an extraordinary legacy including its famous 1901-1904 voyage to Antarctica – with Antarctic pioneers Captain Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and more – to oceanographic research that is now used as a benchmark for modern climate science, a history with the sea scouts in London, and its return to its home of Dundee in 1986. Since being moored at Discovery Point, the ship has seen millions of visitors climb aboard its decks, with more than 300,000 visitors in the last five years alone.

The ship’s wooden structure is beginning to decay. Undertaken by JPS Restoration, the programme of major works to Discovery will include vital restoration to various areas of the ship’s ageing wooden structure. Initially, priority will be given to the deck and supporting the stern. Work will commence in the internal hull, bow and propeller shaft including decay in the stern timbers. Work to the portside bulwarks will be addressed in a later phase. The works are estimated to continue throughout 2024 and into 2025.

The Royal Research Ship is now 123 years old

These funds from the National Heritage Memorial Fund are crucial in efforts to save the ship for future generations. The ability to bring forward these urgent works will be pivotal in securing the ship’s future, while we work on plans for further conservation works in the coming years. We can’t thank NHMF enough for this critical funding.

Emma Halford-Forbes, Heritage & Exhibitions Director at Dundee Heritage Trust
Dundee Heritage Trust was successful in acquiring two antique teak logs from Robbins Timber, enabling the best quality wood to be used for the deck of the ship. The logs were salvaged from the SS Pegu and give the Trust a unique opportunity to use high quality wood without damaging the priceless resource of teak forests.

Dundee Heritage Trust are custodians of the Royal Research Ship Discovery, alongside Verdant Works Museum and the associated polar and jute collections, both Recognised as being of National Significance. An independent charity, the Trust generates 98% of its income through admissions, hospitality and fundraising to enable the care of its remarkable collections and to operate its two award-winning visitor attractions.

Members of Dundee Heritage Trust assessing the hull of Discovery

JPS Restoration Ltd and Industrial Heritage Consulting have worked on many projects together over a number of years and in many locations, but we feel particularly proud and honoured to be given the opportunity to carry out this significant piece of restoration work on such an iconic vessel. 

It is an opportunity to demonstrate that such work can be carried out in Scotland by Scottish companies and we will be harvesting a broad swathe of skills to confirm this. We hope to work with Dundee Heritage Trust to build in an element of training and skills sharing, and we are already speaking to the Scottish Maritime Museum’s pioneering Boatbuilding school about being involved. The ship will remain open to visitors throughout – we look forward to talking to the visitors about this amazing project.

Jim Mitchell, Conservation Engineer at Industrial Heritage Consulting Ltd.

The Royal Research Ship Discovery has been a key part of Dundee’s history since its launch in 1901 and its subsequent return to the city skyline in the 1980s. It is hoped that these crucial works will ensure that this incredible ship will continue to be part of the City of Discovery’s and the nations legacy for many generations to come.

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