The Binnacle Comes Home.
The expedition binnacle of the Terra Nova has returned to Cardiff.
Mike Tarver and Peter Jones, representing the Society, met with Lord Dafydd Ellis Thomas to celebrate the event. Mike, author of the definitive history of the Terra Nova, presented a copy of his book to Lord Ellis Thomas who showed great interest in the binnacle and the Welsh maritime tradition that it symbolises. The binnacle is now housed in the window of the one-time Dock Manager’s office overlooking the Cardiff bay and the course steered by the Terra Nova as, a century ago, she was towed by tugs past Penarth Head.
This binnacle is the instrument that was installed on the Terra Nova as a special requirement for mapping the coastline of Antarctica. It was mounted on the specially constructed ice house and contained a Standard Compass that was precisely set up so that the magnetic influence of the ship did not interfere with the accuracy of the compass heading. When used at sea, the helmsman was instructed to keep a steady course, using the ship’s compass, while readings were taken from obtrusive land features. Commander H.L.L. Pennell, as the expedition’s navigating officer, was generally responsible for taking the readings. The binnacle itself is a securely mounted all-weather housing, including a lighting, that allows the gimballed compass within it to be readable through a glass window. The binnacle was presented to the Navigation School of the Royal Navy by the senior officers who brought Terra Nova back to Cardiff in 1913 preparatory to the vessel being sold back to her original owners – Bowrings.The ceremony is recorded on a brass plaque attached to the binnacle. It reads:
STANDARD COMPASS OF THE TERRA NOVA R.Y.S.
BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION 1910 – 1913
PRESENTED TO H.M. NAVIGATION SCHOOL
COMMANDER E.R.G.R. EVANS C.EX.R.N.
COMMANDER H.L.L. PENNELL R.N.
LIEUTENANT H.E. de P. RENNICK R.N.
Commander Pennell, navigator and sometime commander of the Terra Nova was killed in action aboard the battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary at the battle of Jutland, in 1916. Lt Rennick died after his ship, HMS Hogue was torpedoed off the Dutch coast in 1914.
The National Assembly for Wales have recently been refurbishing the Pier Head Building as a venue in which to house its initiative to ‘inform, involve, and inspire’ the people of Wales. Assembly researcher Ami Zienkiewicz immediately visualised the binnacle in its present location. With Vice Admiral Rory McLean’s mercurial lubrication and facilitatory intervention, the necessary permissions were obtained for the ‘permanent’ loan of the binnacle to the National Assembly for Wales. As a result, Dr Peter Jones, with Matthew Salisbury riding shotgun, journeyed unto Pompey to collect and deliver the binnacle, now valued at £30,000, to the PierHead. When the building was opened on 1st March, St David’s Day, the binnacle was a prominent feature, evoking Cardiff and Wales’ maritime heritage. Incidentally, the binnacle has, at some stage, been modified by the Navy to be usable as a regular postbox.