M993X.5.1357 | The Arctic Expedition. "The Discovery," "The Alert"

The Arctic Expedition. "The Discovery," "The Alert"
R. A. Wells
May 22nd 1875, 19th century
Ink on paper - Wood engraving
26.9 x 39.9 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Military (334) , Print (10661)
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Keys to History

In the 19th century, the explorers' ships were often former warships. They were not always fast, but they had huge holds that could carry vast quantities of provisions. Before leaving, the ships were adapted to face the rigours of navigation in the icy Arctic waters. The hull, and especially the prow, was reinforced with steel plates. The inside of the hull was also lined with a heavy woollen cloth called fearnought to provide better insulation against the cold. The rigging was generally reduced to allow the vessel to be sailed by a smaller crew and increase the amount of storage space for provisions. The ships were often equipped with steam engines that not only powered them but also heated the cabins. In the case of the Alert and the Discovery, all the metal parts that would be handled were covered with leather so no one would lose a layer of skin in the extreme cold

  • What

    Before being turned into an exploration ship, the Alert was a five-gun war sloop. The Discovery was purchased from private ship owners who had built it for the sealing trade.

  • Where

    The two ships are shown moored at the Portsmouth naval base. The city of Portsmouth is in the south of England, on the Channel.

  • When

    These two ships left England in May 1875 on a scientific mission to the North Pole. The expedition returned to England in October 1876.

  • Who

    Captain George S. Nares, aboard the Alert, was commander of the expedition. His second in command was Captain H. F. Stephenson on the Discovery.