The history of marine science is intimately associated both with the development of techniques for obtaining the raw data and with the vessels from which the observations were made. Over the past two centuries the ships employed have ranged from totally unsuitable ones, which happened to be available at the time, to, less commonly, purpose-built vessels incorporating the most sophisticated technology of the day.
Modern oceanographers tend to have a curious love/hate relationship with the vessels in which they go to sea, but they are often quite knowledgeable about their own and their colleagues’ ships. Yet very few of them have more than the haziest idea of what the vessels that laid the foundations of their science were like or where they went. This is not altogether surprising, since while there has been a resurgence of interest in the history of oceanography in recent years, information on specific ships is scattered and often contradicting and confusing. This book attempts to redress this situation, at least for British vessels, for the period from before the Napoleonic wars, through the mid-nineteenth century era of total British domination to the last of the long-term and far-reaching voyages immediately after the Second World War.
Brief details are given of the physical characteristics of each ship, often with an illustration, together with a short account of where she went, who sailed on her, and the significance of the results obtained. The book should be useful to anyone interested in the development of oceanography, or in maritime matters generally, and the serious student will find references to both contemporary and subsequent sources of more detailed information.
Cover illustration: Royal Research Ship Discovery, from a photograph by J. Russell and Sons, Southsea, taken during the vessel’s sail trials in the Solent in 1924 and published in the first volume of the Discovery Reports.