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




A Small Island’s Part in a Big Story

Bronze cannon from the wreck of the Spanish Armada ship El Gran Grifón, acquired by Shetland Museum and Archives in 1972 with an NFA grant of £1,500. 

Copyright of Shetland Museum

Bronze cannon from the wreck of the El Gran Grifón on display in Shetland Museum

The first artefact secured by Shetland Museum with help from the National Fund for Acquisitions shows how a small island played an unexpected part in one of the most important events in British history – Spain’s attempt to invade England in 1588. The object is a bronze cannon, saved for Shetland with an NFA grant in 1972.

The Spanish invasion fleet was the most powerful armed force ever seen, with 130 ships carrying 30,000 men. Plans went badly wrong, however, when the Armada came to battle in August. The ships were slower and harder to steer, and gales wrecked the battle plan.  Admiral Howard’s English fleet won a famous victory and the defeated Spanish were driven up the North Sea. One hundred ships rounded Scotland trying get southwards.

Copyright of Setland Museum

Bronze cannon on gun carriage built by the Royal Armouries

El Gran Grifón, with a crew of 280, was one of 23 supply hulks that carried stores for the invasion. Off the Isle of Wight she took a broadside from Sir Francis Drake’s Revenge and after seventy hits and dozens killed, the crew made emergency repairs. A crewman onboard the Grifón wrote: “When we thought all hope was gone, we sighted an island ahead of us. This was Fair Isle, where we arrived at sunset, much consoled, though we saw we should still have to suffer. But anything was better than drinking salt water.” Islanders provided shelter but food was scarce and there was little to share. Fifty men perished over the next two months before they were able to get to Fife then home to Spain.

The wreck of the Grifón was discovered by a St Andrews University team in 1970 and this cannon was recovered. Two years ago we had a gun carriage constructed for the cannon by the Royal Armouries in Leeds, Britain’s foremost specialists in historic gunnery, and iron fittings were hand-crafted by local blacksmith Bruce Wilcock.  Appropriately, the metal Bruce used was salvaged from an anchor dredged from the seabed!

Dr Ian Tait
Shetland Museum and Archives