Fuelling Antarctic exploration: The Crown Patent Fuel Company in Cardiff

Age of Polar Expeditions

A block of Crown Patent Fuel.
A block of Crown Patent Fuel.
The early 20th century was a time of great heroic explorations to the Antarctic continent. Crown Patent Fuel from south Wales was the fuel of choice for these Antarctic expeditions.

Crown Patent Fuel

The <em>Terra Nova</em> taking on Crown Patent Fuel in Cardiff, 1910.
The Terra Nova taking on Crown Patent Fuel in Cardiff, 1910.

In addition to 100 tons of steam coal from south Wales coal companies, Captain Scott's 1910 British Antarctic Expedition was also given 300 tons of fuel blocks by Cardiff's Crown Patent Fuel Company. This, along with other sponsorship from Cardiff and south Wales, persuaded Scott to designate Cardiff the home port of his ship, the Terra Nova. He sent the Terra Nova to load fuel in Cardiff rather than have it sent by rail to London.

The Crown Patent Fuel works were situated alongside the Glamorganshire Canal at Maendy. The works was one of a number along the canal and, together with a number of works at other south Wales ports, made the region the largest producer of patent fuel in the world. Most of the patent fuel was exported, with France being a major customer.

Scott commends Welsh coal

Facsimile letter sent by Scott from winter quarters at Cape Evans 23 January 1911 to the Crown Patent Fuel Company commending the success of the patent fuel supplied by the company to the <em>Terra Nova</em> at Cardiff.
Facsimile letter sent by Scott from winter quarters at Cape Evans 23 January 1911 to the Crown Patent Fuel Company commending the success of the patent fuel supplied by the company to the Terra Nova at Cardiff.

The fuel was made by mixing and heating waste small coal with pitch, the residue from distilled coal tar, and ramming the mixture into moulds. Various size blocks were produced, ranging from 7lbs to 56 lbs, with 28lbs being the most common — and the size taken on Scott's expedition. The blocks stacked well and took up less space than coal.

When the expedition reached their base at Cape Evans on Ross Island in Antarctica, the fuel blocks were used to build a back wall to the stables for the expedition ponies.

Earlier expeditions

The <em>Discovery</em> taking on patent fuel in Cardiff docks, 1901.
The Discovery taking on patent fuel in Cardiff, 1901.

In 1901 the Discovery, Captain Scott's first Antarctic expedition ship, took on 200 tons of Patent Fuel in Cardiff. The Aurora, the ship of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14), was also in Cardiff taking on Crown Patent Fuel on 4 August 1911 before sailing for Australia and Antarctica.

Article by: Tom Sharpe and Robert Protheroe Jones

Article Date: 23 July 2010

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