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Photographs of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition

Collection Summary

Reference Code

GB 0248 DC 404



Extent and medium of the unit of description

0.5 metres

(stereo glass-plate negatives and stereo glass-plate positives)

Existence and Location of Originals

This material is original.

Name of creator

Bruce | William Speirs | 1867-1921 | polar explorer and oceanographer

Biographical History

Administrative History

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition (1902-1904) was undertaken with the sole aim of increasing and improving knowledge of polar science. Success was achieved by the production of high quality scientific results, particularly in the areas of polar oceanography, meteorology and wildlife observation.

The Scottish National Antarctic Expedition was conceived and led by the Scottish nationalist, William Speirs Bruce (1867-1921) who had training and experience in all areas of the natural sciences, and a considerable background in polar observation. He regarded the Expedition as a Scottish response to the recent National Antarctic or Discovery Expedition, on which he had turned down the position of naturalist, due to its emphasis on exploration rather than scientific observation.

After failing to gain funding from the British Government, Bruce raised the cost of the expedition by private subscription. Two of the Coats brothers of Paisley donated generously providing two-thirds of the overall budget. In 1901, Bruce purchased the Norwegian whaler, Hekla. This was repaired and altered at Ailsa Shipbuilding Company's yard in Troon, under the free direction of the naval architect George Lennox Watson. Following alteration the ship was renamed the SY Scotia.

SY Scotia departed from Troon on 02 November 1902. On board were a crew of 25 and an impressive team of scientists recruited from amongst Bruce's friends and colleagues. These included a zoologist, a botanist, a meteorologist, a geologist, a taxidermist and a bacteriologist. The SY Scotia sailed south, via Madeira and the Falkland Islands. En route, meteorological surveys were carried out every 4 hours and the oceanographic instruments tested. Scientific studies were also undertaken at the Cape Verde Islands and Saint Paul's Rock. Bruce recorded events throughout the trip using a variety of methods. These included cinematography, phonography and photography using a variety of cameras. These included a verascope camera, which produced stereo glass-plate negatives.

On 03 February 1903, the SY Scotia arrived at Saddle Island in the South Orkney Islands, where the scientific team made their first Antarctic landing. Afterwards the SY Scotia continued to progress southwards until a drop in temperature saw a short period beset in pack ice. After breaking free, the trip south was abandoned for the season. The ship progressed NNE along the pack ice before anchoring for the winter in "Scotia Bay" on the south side of Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands. A wooden meteorological observation station, named Omond House, and a cairn, as a reference point for topographic survey work, were constructed immediately. Over the winter, observations and collections of specimens were undertaken in a number of scientific disciplines. Small parties were sent out for short periods to enhance these. In addition, a considerable amount of topographic survey work was undertaken allowing the first map of Laurie Island to be draughted.

After breaking free from the ice in Scotia Bay, on 22 November 1903, the SY Scotia sailed to Argentina via the Falkland Islands. A team of 6 men were left ashore to continue scientific observations, particularly on penguins. Negotiations with the Argentine Government, to assume the responsibility for meteorological observations, were successful, and 3 Argentines returned with the ship to staff Omond House along with Robert Cockburn Mossman (1870-1940). This team was left on Laurie Island to be collected by the Uruguay in December 1904.

The SY Scotia proceeded south into the Weddell Sea to undertake oceanographic observations. Previously undiscovered land was sighted on 03 March 1904. This was named Coatsland in honour of the Coats brothers' support of the expedition. The ship continued to edge south until meeting the ice shelf. Following a storm the ship became stuck in the pack ice at 74° 01'S 22° 00'W, the furthest latitude south achieved by the expedition, where it remained for 6 days. Following liberation, further oceanographic soundings were taken to compare with those recorded by James Clark Ross in 1843.

The SY Scotia arrived back in Scotland on 21 July 1904, having travelled via Gough Island, Capetown, Saint Helena, Ascension Island, Cape Verde Islands and Faial Island in the Azores. During the journey a number of trips ashore were taken for scientific observation and collecting, as well as recreation.

Scope and Content

Scope and Content

Photographs of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition consist of:

  • Miscellaneous - Ships, ice, boy (January 1902 - June 1904)
  • Saint Helena - Ships company ashore and tortoise (30 May 1904 - 06 July 1904)
  • Views of land and sea (1902-1904)
  • Icebergs, Scotia (20 February 1903 - 12 March 1904)
  • SY Scotia beset and ships crew (1902-1904)
  • Scotia (1902-1904)
  • Ships crew - leisure and work (23 November 1902-04 April 1904)
  • Ship's company ashore
  • Unnamed ships, camps 5 and 6 (1902-1904)
  • Birds and penguins (22 February 1903 - 30 April 1904)
  • Adeliae penguins, Emperor penguins (16 October 1903 - 21 March 1904)
  • Gentoo Penguins, Jackass Penguins, Ringed Penguins (02 April 1903-06 February 1904)
  • Penguins ( 02 April 1903-21 May 1904)
  • Shags (1902-1904)
  • Seals, sharks, sunfish, turtle, whales (1902-1904)
  • Crew and balloons, Mediterranean (07 September 1906- 09 September 1906)
  • Switzerland, Mer de Glace (1905)
  • Portobello, kite flying
  • Various - on board and on land




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