Frozen in Time: The Frank Plumley Collection

Collection of personal items, archives and photographs which belonged to Frank Plumley (1876-1971), a stoker on SY Discovery during the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904, acquired by Dundee Heritage Trust in 2016 with an NFA grant of £12,500.

In 1901 48 men risked their lives in pursuit of the unknown. Led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott on board SY Discovery, the British National Antarctic Expedition of 1901-1904 set sail to pursue scientific and geographic discovery in this largely untouched continent.

Here at Discovery Point, while we aim to tell this story of Antarctic exploration by showcasing both the ship and the men who served on her, the nature of collecting means that our narrative often focuses on just 11 men, the officers and scientists. Some of them published diaries and reports and a few, Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, went on to become celebrated figures in this Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration. As a result, more material relating to higher ranking men has been recorded and preserved.

Frank Plumley

Frank Plumley in naval uniform

We were therefore delighted when an opportunity arose to redress the balance to some extent. With the support of the National Fund for Acquisitions we secured a collection of 35 items which belonged to Frank Plumley, one of five stokers on board the 1901 expedition and a man we previously knew very little about. The collection includes personal notebooks, poems and letters, service and polar medals, photographs and personal items, including an Expedition Royal Doulton mug, snow goggles and a pipe. Preserved by his grandson, the collection also includes many newspaper cuttings and articles relating to Frank’s later life, allowing us to build up a fascinating history.

Officers and crew of Discovery, Sept 1904

Crew and officers of Discovery on 14 September 1904, the morning after the Lord Mayor’s banquet to celebrate their return. Frank Plumley is in the 4th row, 3rd from the right

Born in 1876 Frank joined the Royal Navy at the age of 20. Five years later at Cape Town, South Africa, he joined Discovery from HMS Gibraltar. During the expedition he was part of Lieutenant Barne’s first attempt in March 1902 to reach Cape Crozier, which struck trouble when a blizzard swept over the Hut Point Peninsula sending George Vince to his death. He later played a part in Captain Scott’s Western Attempt in October 1903. After Discovery he served on a number of Royal Navy ships, including HMS Dreadnought, HMS Venus and HMS King George V, and saw active service during the First World War. He returned to civilian life in 1919, employed as a blacksmith at Gun Wharf in Portsmouth. Frank died in 1971, aged 95, in Newport on the Isle of Wight.

Selection of Plumley material

A selection of material from the Frank Plumley collection

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

Louisa Attaheri
Dundee Heritage Trust




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