Investigating the oceans
Throughout the 1930s, the William Scoresby continued survey and investigatory duties. A great deal of work was carried out marking and tracking whales, dredging oceanic seabeds and investigating all aspects of the oceans. During these years the work of the William Scoresby and its sister ships played a major role in extending the frontiers of knowledge, particularly in the disciplines of oceanography and marine biology. The vessels also charted large sections of South Georgia, whilst their discovery work in Antarctica contributed much to our knowledge of the continent.
The vessel was requisitioned by the Admiralty in October 1939 and returned to the Falkland Islands as HMS William Scoresby in June 1940. It served in the area until 1943, when it became part of Operation Tabarin and helped to establish British bases throughout Antarctica, observing Argentine activities in the region.
The final voyage
After the war ownership of the vessel was transferred to the newly formed National Institute of Oceanography, it sailed on a 10-month voyage which began with a preliminary survey of the Benguela Current off the west coast of Africa. Later, the ship called at Cape Town and Mauritius.
It was the old ship’s final voyage of discovery and investigation. A further attempt to obtain official funds to recommission the vessel failed and when a buyer could not be found the vessel was sold. In 1954 the ship was purchased by the British Iron and Steel Corporation and scrapped: thus ended the illustrious career of the William Scoresby.
Whilst the work of the William Scoresby and the other Discovery Committee ships did not stop the wholesale slaughter and destruction of many whaling stocks, the vessels had played a major part in increasing our knowledge of the world’s oceans and paved the way for later conservation measures.
On one of these voyages, for example the vessel, undertook a survey of the Humbolt Current on the west coast of South America, an area from which previously little precise knowledge had been obtained. The Humbolt Current and its contrary or opposing current, known as El Nino, plays a dynamic role in the world’s weather systems.
Previously, knowledge of the Humbolt Current had mainly been obtained from surface observations, but the William Scoresby’s scientists obtained much new information on the physical characteristics of the water at different depths and on the associated marine fauna. This proved of great importance in increasing understanding of this crucial aspect of our natural world.
Sir Alister Hardy’s contributions
Those who had carried out their investigations with these vessels were often to play a major part in extending our knowledge of the oceans. In 1924, for example, A.C. (later Sir Alister) Hardy was selected as Chief Zoologist on the Discovery for the first of the Discovery Expeditions. In later life, he was to write an account, Great Waters, of the expedition.
In 1927 he returned from the cruise of the Discovery and William Scoresby with an enormous amount of data and a brimful of ideas. He obtained a post as the first Professor of Zoology at the newly formed University College, Hull. Here he initiated a first year and an honours Zoology course whilst embarking upon a unique research project based on his Continuous Plankton Recorder. This led to the opening of his 1931 Joint Department of Zoology and Oceanography. He lived in the Tudor House on Thwaite Street in Cottingham and the Hardy Building at the University is named after him.
Hardy remained at University College, Hull throughout the 1930s and gradually extended his programme until the war led to its closure. In 1942 he was appointed to the Regius Chair of Natural History at Aberdeen. He had an extremely distinguished career, later becoming Director of Field Studies, Oxford. A deeply religious man, Hardy sought to bring about reconciliation between Darwin’s theories of evolution and his own religious convictions. He died in Oxford in 1987.