Traditionally, Dundee has been the reknowned City of jute, jam and journalism but only the latter remains true in modern times. Jute was made here in huge quantities at one time but little remains of that industry today. The "jam" association lasted much longer since the nearby 'Carse of Gowrie' to the West of the City was and is, to a lesser extent, a fruit growing area. Marmalade was allegedly invented in the city by Janet Keiller in 1797 but in truth it had already existed elsewhere for nearly three hundred years! Journalism in Dundee ranges from daily newspapers like the Courier to popular childrens comics such as the Beano and the Dandy remaining as firm favourites. Although the City has many exhibits of great interest, the two listed below deserve special mention and since one lies close to the other then one parking fee and a short walk delivers value for money.
The RRS Discovery was the last wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain and designed for Antarctic research. She was built by the Dundee Shipbuilders Company and was launched on 21st March 1901. Her first mission was the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic, and subsequently referred to as the Discovery Expedition. In more recent times, the ship has been returned to the place if its birth and where the modern Discovery Point expedition centre has become one of the most popular permanent exhibitions in Scotland.
HMS Unicorn and her sister ship, HMS Trincomalee, are surviving sailing frigates of the successful Leda class. Unicorn is now a museum ship in Dundee and located close to the 'Discovery Point' museum site described onthis page.
HMS Unicorn was built in peacetime at Chatham Dockyard and launched in 1824. A superstructure was built over her main deck and she was laid up "in ordinary", serving as a hulk and a depot ship for most of the next 140 years. Her lack of active duty left her timbers well preserved, and in the 1960s steps were initiated to convert her to a museum ship. She remains as the singular example of a wooden frigate of her type existing 'in ordinary,' and preserved to a very high standard.HMS Unicorn was never fitted with masts and her only seafaring voyage was the one in which she was towed from Chatham to Dundee.
Discovery had coal-fired steam engines but was compelled to use sail for much of the time because the coal bunkers did not have sufficient capacity to take the ship on long voyages. She was rigged as a barque but tended to roll badly in open seas on account of the flat shallow hull and minimal extensions and so she would perform well when pushing through ice.
The iron covered bows were angled so when ramming ice, the forward part of the hull would rise and exert ever greater weight upon the ice; a principle still employed by ice breaker ships today. The propeller and rudder could be raised in times when ice threatened to enclose the vessel and the thick wooden hull was designed to withstand the high pressures of being frozen in ice. Her first captain was Robert Falcon Scott, later known as 'Scott of the Antarctic'.
Today, the RRS Discovery lies in 'dry dock' and is clearly visible while crossing the Tay Road and Rail Bridges from Fife and towards Dundee. The modern exhibit, built around the dock is known as 'Discovery Point' and is arguably one the finest in Scotland including a cinema cum 3D effects stage. The latter part of the cinematic cum stage exhibit is quite surprising and it would be wrong to spoil the surprise by saying more about it on this page. So we won't!
Simply standing on the decks of this magnificent vessel and seeing how such courageous explorers of the period bathed in a large wooden barrel filled with icy seawater is enough to send shivers down the spine! We rank this as a five star exhibit worthy of visit and family friendly.
The successful 'Discovery' missions were planned in nearby Glen Prosen and where the ship's doctor had a residence. Athough I've never seen it, I've been told there is a small memorial site in the glen with copies of Scott's last letters within a case of some kind.
During the later 'ill fated 'race to the South Pole - Terra Nova' expedition', Scott placed his faith in modern mechanical machines whilst his Norwegian competitor, Roald Amundsen, adopted the tried and proven techniques using sleds drawn by dogs and where, if worst came to worst, his team could always eat one of the dogs! Amundsen won the race and became the first man to visit both the North Pole and it's Southern counterpart. Scott and his party arrived soon afterwards and knew they'd been beaten. They perished on the return journey and where, during the final hours of their lives, Scott's expedition party had no food to eat and were trapped in their tent by a howling gale preventing further progress. Scott wrote eleven letters before his death with one addressed to J M Barry, the noted creator of 'Peter Pan' described in greater detail elsewhere on this website.
Antarctica remains as the only continent on Earth in which indigious species related to human population of any kind was absent and where the coldest temperatures on the planet have recorded close to minus ninety five degrees Centigrade - enough to shatter poor quality steel into powder!