Dundee: RRS Discovery and Verdant Works

RRS Discovery

At the end of the 19th century, Dundee was a whaling port with a ship-building industry capable of constructing vessels strong enough to withstand the ice of Arctic whaling grounds. It was therefore the perfect place to build Royal Research Ship Discovery in which the British National Antarctic Expedition set sail in 1901, commanded by Robert Falcon Scott and including in the crew Ernest Shackleton. The expedition spent two years in the Antarctic in arduous conditions, resulting in a wealth of scientific information which is still used by polar researchers today.

In 1986, RRS Discovery returned to Dundee and was refitted as a museum which portrays both Scott’s and subsequent expeditions. I was surprised how much there was to see: I anticipated a quick tour round the ship, but there were also several interesting galleries before we boarded and in the end we spent all morning there. Highly recommended (and great mannequins, Jessica).

After lunch (tasty soup in Discovery’s café) we headed across Dundee for our second museum of the day.

Verdant Works

At one time, Dundee was undoubtedly the jute capital of the world. Around the year 1900, more than 50,000 people (out of a population of 161,000) were employed in over 100 mills. The Verdant Works transports us back to that time.

First we visited the Lodge Keeper before going into the Works Office. Most of the furniture and fittings in the office are original, dating to 1890-1900, so when the Dundee Heritage Trust bought the Works in 1991 it had to do very little to restore it.

The contraption in the last picture above is a copying press. In the days before scanners and copiers – or even carbon paper – an original written with copying ink was placed against a moistened piece of tissue and put into the press. The pressure forced a copy onto the tissue. Let’s be thankful for modern technology! When it works …

The machine hall took you through the process of making jute from fibre to fabric – lots of big green machines.

The biggest machine of all, however, is in the High Mill. The Boulton and Watt steam engine (1801), which we saw demonstrated, is too big to show successfully in one picture, but here are some impressions.

I liked the way the High Mill was decorated with images of its workers over the years, mainly female. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, creating the original house-husband and giving Dundee the epithet She Town. This was also addressed in one of the social history galleries upstairs – it really is worth expanding the explanatory panel to have a read. Here’s to over-dressed, loud, bold-eyed girls!

Once again, this was a museum we thoroughly enjoyed and we were the last people to leave – we thought we might have been locked in when we found the main gate closed! Fortunately, there were staff in the café to let us out through the Lodge House. Our short break in Dundee had been wonderful, and we had plans for our journey home the next day. They didn’t quite work out – read on next week …