Rediscovering Captain Scott’s Forgotten Surgeon

Microscope and medical kit which belonged to Dr Reginald Koettlitz, surgeon onboard RRS Discovery, acquired by Dundee Heritage Trust in 2013 with an NFA grant of £3,000.

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Could you spend four years in a small wooden ship battling icy winds and temperatures averaging around -40 °C with just 47 other men and penguins for company? Discovery Point tells the story of Antarctic exploration and the men who did just that in search of unknown lands, scientific discoveries and adventure.

Copyrigth of Dundee Heritage Trust

Officers and scientists aboard Discovery in Lyttelton, New Zealand, 1901. Dr Koettlitz, with moustache, is pictured in the centre, Captain Scott standing to the right

Our museum centres around RRS (Royal Research Ship) Discovery, a three-masted wooden sailing ship, purpose-built here in Dundee for renowned explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott on his first expedition to Antarctica in 1901. We aim to showcase Discovery and the men who served on her with items varying from navigational and scientific specimens collected on the ship’s three Antarctic expeditions to more personal objects vividly representing daily life for polar explorers of the period.

Over the last few years, with generous support from the NFA, we have been able to secure significant additions to the collection relating both to Discovery and to Scott’s second fateful Antarctic journey on board the Terra Nova. These have included original ship blueprints, rare personal letters and even a teaspoon handcrafted from a broken sledge runner.

Our latest acquisitions, a medical kit and microscope, belonged to Dr Reginald Koettlitz, the senior surgeon and bacteriologist aboard Discovery’s maiden voyage. The lightweight travelling medical kit was used when on sledging journeys exploring the vast Antarctic landscape and collecting important scientific specimens. Ideal for treating minor injuries, its contents include tweezers, scissors, surgeon’s needles and thread.

Copyright of Dundee Heritage Trust

Dr Koettlitz aboard Discovery in the Tropics en route to Antarctica. Picture credit: Ann and Gus Jones

The microscope would have been used for examining both scientific specimens and blood samples taken at the men’s monthly medical examinations. Koettlitz was lucky in that there were few serious injuries to deal with, although minor cases included a number of fractures and cases of scurvy and frostbite. The doctor also carried out the first ever surgical operation in Antarctica, removing a cyst from Lieutenant Royd’s face.

For more details on these objects or to see other highlights of our fantastic collection please visit our Collections Online

Louisa Attaheri
Assistant Curator
Dundee Heritage Trust

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