Commander Robert Falcon Scott RN was selected to lead the expedition. Scott, the son of a Devonshire brewer with naval connections, had entered naval training school at just 13. He progressed first to midshipman and then lieutenant and served in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. On 5 June 1899, Scott, who had been serving as a torpedo lieutenant on the Majestic, met Sir Clements Markham in a London street. Markham was returning from a Royal Geographical Society Council meeting at which the impending Antarctic expedition had been discussed and Scott immediately volunteered to command the expedition. Markham, who was familiar with Scott’s background, already had him at the head of a list of potential candidates for the position of expedition leader.
Markham proposed the building of a new ship and, on 21 March 1901, a 52.4 metre purpose-built vessel constructed by Dundee Shipbuilders Company Limited, was launched on the River Tay by Lady Markham and named Discovery.
Reflecting its large budget, the expedition was planned on a grand scale with such equipment as two army balloons for reconnaissance, a windmill to generate electric power and a number of dogs. The Discovery sailed from London on 31 July 1901 with a great fanfare from passing craft and a full salute from the training ship Worcester.
The ship then moored at Cowes for the yacht-racing week where King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra came on board. According to Dr Edward Wilson:
We were busy the whole morning, till nigh on 11.30 when the King and Queen came on board, clearing up, tidying and putting our smartest bits of apparatus and our prettiest solutions in prominent positions. Microscopes were set out, water bottles, thermometers, everything else arranged and tidied up …
The King shook hands with us all round as he came on board, and again when he left. The Queen also. The King gave the Victorian Order of the First Class to Captain Scott before leaving, having with great difficulty fished it out of his tail-coat pocket, which was a long way round on the wrong side of his stout figure. He gave us a few words of royal encouragement, was shown off the ship and then left.
The Discovery made her departure from Cowes the next day, 6 August 1901. When she arrived at Lyttleton, New Zealand some months later an impressive quantity of food was taken on board including tinned meat, dehydrated vegetables, 45 live sheep donated by local farmers, soups, biscuits and various beverages.
Also taken on board were three huts; a single-roomed hut for the magnetic observatory, a similar building for the seismograph, and an 11.3 metre square prefabricated building to be erected as a shore station. This large hut was constructed by James Moore of Sydney at a cost of £360.14.5d and was intended to house a small landing party.