The National Maritime Museum holds considerable material on polar exploration, mostly relating to British seaborne expeditions from the time of James Cook to Shackleton and the end of the 'Heroic Age' of Antarctic exploration. It is particularly strong on items connected with Sir John Franklin's missing North-West Passage voyage and the subsequent search expeditions.

Sections 1 and 2 list items relating to explorers and voyages including:

  • rare and early books
  • manuscripts
  • historic photographs
  • hydrography
  • prints
  • drawings
  • relics

Section 3 lists some of the many modern and general works on polar exploration in the Caird Library.

Many sketches made by expedition members, and engraved to illustrate printed accounts of the voyages, can be traced through the prints and drawings catalogue, which contains portraits of major British polar explorers. To view specific items, please contact the appropriate department:

Antiquities (equipment, relics, ethnography)

Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6724

Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6632



Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6757

Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6599

Picture Library

Tel: +44 (0)20 8312 6704/6631/6600

Fax: +44 (0)20 8312 6533

Arctic exploration

Items in the Museum collections

Constantine John Phipps's voyage towards the North Pole, 1773

  • Phipps, Constantine John, A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken by His Majesty's Command 1773 910.4(98)"1773".
  • Watercolours by John Cleveley.

Captain James Cook (1728–1779)

  • Cook, James, ed. Beaglehole, J C, The Journals of James Cook on His Voyages of Discovery (Cambridge, Hakluyt Society, 1955-1974) 0161.22 Hakluyt.
  • Prints, drawings and paintings by John Webber and William Hodges.

North Pole expedition in 'Dorothea' and 'Trent', 1818

  • Beechey, F W, A Voyage of Discovery Towards the North Pole Performed in His Majesty's ships Dorothea and Trent, Under the Command of Captain David Buchan, 1818 (London, Richard Bentley, 1843) 910.4 (98)"1818":094.
  • The astronomy and navigation collections include instruments belonging to the Reverend George Fisher (1794–1873) astronomer on the expedition.
  • Drawings by F W Beechey.

Rear-Admiral Sir John Ross (1777–1856)

  • Ross, John, A Voyage of Discovery, Made Under the Orders of the Admiralty, in His Majesty's Ships Isabella and Alexander for the Purpose of Exploring Baffin's Bay, and Enquiring into the Probability of a North-West Passage (London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1819) 910.4(987) "1818":094.
  • Ross, John and Ross, James Clark, Narrative of a Second Voyage in Search of a North-West Passage and of a Residence in the Arctic regions during the years 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833; including the reports of Capt J C Ross...and the discovery of the Northern Magnetic Pole (Paris, Baudrey's European Library, 1835) 910.4 (987) "1829/1833:094.
  • See also prints based on watercolours by Ross, which are also bound in Ross's account of the expeditions.
  • Sir John Ross' orders and medals are in the antiquities section.
  • Charts relating to his voyages are in the hydrography section.

Rear-Admiral Sir William Edward Parry (1790–1855)

  • Parry, William Edward, Journal of a Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Performed in the Years 1819-20. In his Majesty's Ships Hecla and Griper: with an Appendix, Containing the Scientific and other Observations (London, John Murray, 1821) 910.4 (987)"1819/1820":094.
  • Parry, William Edward, Journal of a Second Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Performed in the Years 1821-22-23, in His Majesty's Ships Fury and Hecla (London, John Murray, 1824) 910.4(987)"1821/1823":094.
  • Parry, William Edward, Journal of a Third Voyage for the Discovery of a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, Performed in the Years 1824-25 in His Majesty's Ships Hecla and Fury (London, John Murray, 1826) 910.4(987)"1824/1825":094.
  • There are also prints depicting scenes from Parry's third voyage.
  • Parry, William Edward, Narrative of an Attempt to reach the North Pole, in Boats Fitted for the Purpose and Attached to His Majesty's Ship Hecla in the Year MDCCCXXVII (London, John Murray, 1828) 910.4(98)"1827":094.
  • Charts relating to Parry's voyages are in the hydrography section.

Admiral Sir George Back (1796–1878)

  • Back, George, Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition to the Mouth of the Great Fish River, and Along the Shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Years 1833, 1834 and 1835 (London, John Murray, 1836) 910.4(987)"1833/1835":094.
  • The antiquities section has ethnographic material collected by Back in North America.
  • Back, George, Narrative of an Expedition in HMS Terror, Undertaken with a View to Geographical Discovery on the Arctic shores in the Years 1836-7 (London, John Murray, 1838) 910.4(987)"1836/1837":094.
  • The voyage of the Terror is recorded in watercolours by Lieutenant William Smyth, and Owen Stanley's sketchbook; in the prints and drawings collection.

Sir John Franklin (1786–1847)

  • Franklin, John and Richardson, John, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea, in the Years 1819-20-21-22 (London, John Murray, 1824) 910.4(987)"1819/1822":094.
  • Franklin, John, Narrative of a Second Expedition to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1825, 1826 and 1827 (London, John Murray, 1828) 910.4((987)"1825/1827):094.
  • Illustrations of John Franklin's second overland expedition are in the prints and drawings collection.
  • A volume of Franklin's correspondence 1820–45 is in the manuscripts collection.
  • The Antiquities section holds part of the Hopton Hall Collection, on loan from the Gell Muniment Trustees, this includes personal possessions and relics of Franklin.
  • Charts from the Hopton Hall Collection are in the hydrography section. Some are particularly concerned with Franklin and Richardson's land journey to Northern Canada from 1825–27 (General Chart Collection, Ref. G285:5 Arctic Canada, North-West Passage; and G247:12 Lakes and Rivers of Canada).

Sir John Franklin's last expedition 1845–48

  • Copies of daguerreotypes of the expedition officers taken by William Beard (and engraved for the Illustrated London News) can be supplied by the historic photographs department.
  • Most of the equipment and possessions of the missing expedition collected by McClintock, Rae and Schwatka is in the Antiquities section.
  • The manuscript department has the document found by Lieutenant Hobson at Point Victory which provided the most important clue to the expedition's fate and intentions.

Franklin search expeditions

  • Belcher, Sir Edward, The Last of the Arctic Voyages: being a Narrative of the Expedition in HMS Assistance, under the Command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, CB, in Search of Sir John Franklin, during the Years 1852-53-54 (London, Lovell Reeve, 1855) 910.4(987)"1852/1854".
  • Osborn, Sherard, Stray Leaves from an Arctic Journal: or Eighteen Months in the Polar Regions, in Search of Sir John Franklin's Expedition, in the Years 1850-51 (London, Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1852) 910.4(987)"1850/1851"
  • McClintock, Francis Leopold, Sir, The Voyage of the Fox in the Arctic Seas: a Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and his Companions (London, John Murray, 1859) 910.4(987) "1857/1859".
  • Drawings by Walter William May showing Sir Edward Belcher's expedition, also drawings by Edward Augustus Inglefield.
  • Historic photographs department can supply copies of two photographs taken during Sir Edward Belcher's expedition by Surgeon William Thomas Domville of Resolute. They also have 20 negatives believed to have been taken by Edward Augustus Inglefield in Phoenix 1853–54, and can supply photographs of Illustrated London News engravings covering various search expeditions from Ross 1849 to Schwatka 1879.
  • Manuscripts section holds the journal of Henry Piers, assistant surgeon in Investigator, and William Simpson, marine in Plover; some papers relating to Sir John Le Mesurier McClure; and the papers of Admiral Sir Edward Belcher, Admiral Sir Richard Collinson and Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock.
  • There is also an entertaining series of playbills relating to naval amateur drama in the Library. The Hydrography section has related charts.

Nares's attempt on the North Pole 1875–76

  • Nares, Sir George S, Narrative of a Voyage to the Polar Sea during 1875–76 in H M Ships Alert and Discovery (London, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1878) 910.4(98) A1875/1876".
  • The Antiquities section has an extensive collection of clothing and equipment used on the expedition.
  • Copies of Illustrated London News engravings can be obtained from the historic photographs section. There are also two photograph albums relating to this expedition, group photographs of the officers of Alert and Discovery and a composite picture showing the crew of Alert.
  • The manuscripts department holds the diaries of Albert Hastings Markham and D. W. Harley of HMS Alert.

Later 19th-century expeditions

Illustrated London News engravings available relating to:

  • Sir Allen Young's two voyages in the Pandora 1875–76
  • Nordensjöld's voyage in the Vega, 1878–79
  • Jeanette expedition 1879–1881
  • Greeley's voyage 1881–84

Antarctic exploration

Items in the Museum collections

Sir James Clark Ross, Antarctic voyages 1839–1843

  • Drawings by George Henry Mowbray

National Antarctic expedition,1901–04

  • Colbeck collection of 250 photographs and album 346 (inscribed by Shackleton). There is a small collection of equipment and commemorative items in the Atiquities section.
  • Scott's waterproof watch (ZBA1611).

Australasian Expedition, Sir Douglas Mawson 1911–14

  • A collection of clothing and other equipment is in the Antiquities section.

Scott's Antarctic expedition, 1910–13

  • The Historic Photographs department has an album, 1217, with 45 photographs taken 1910–11.
  • Scott's sledge flag, ZBA1609; goggles, ZBA1612; and sledging satchel, ZBA1613.
  • Other items on loan from the Trustees of the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust: Primus stove parts, ZBA1614; ration bags, ZBA1615; Terra Nova burgee, ZBA1616.

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914, leader Ernest Henry Shackleton

  • The Henley Collection is held by the Historic Photographs department.
  • Small collection of equipment and relics, including a suite of furniture from the manager's villa, at the whaling station at Stromness, South Georgia, AAA3415-3420; a marine chronometer, ZAA0029; Dr Hussey's banjo, AAB0225; an epitaph to three officers who died on the expedition, left at McMurdo Sound, AAA4270; a boat compass, ZBA1610.

Research between the Wars

  • Photographs of the Discovery expeditions relate to whaling in South Georgia and oceanic research. They show research ships Discovery II (1929), William Scoresby (1926) and Fleurus (1919).

General bibliography

Reference numbers given in italics refer to the Library catalogue, which is available online.

  • Berton, Pierre, The Arctic Grail: the Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole 1818–1909 (New York, Viking, 1988) 910.4(98)"18/19"
  • Cherry-Garrard, Apsley, The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910–13 (London,Constable, 1922) 910.4(99)"1910/1913" (also 1994 edition by Picador).
  • Cyriax, Richard J, Sir John Franklin's Last Arctic Expedition: The Franklin Expedition (London, Methuen, 1939) 910.4(987)"1845/1848" (also recent edition by Arctic Press).
  • Huntford, Roland, Scott and Amundsen (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1979) 910.4(99) "1910/1912"
  • Imbert, Betrand, North Pole, South Pole Journeys to the Ends of the Earth (Thames & Hudson, 1992)
  • Lehane, Brendan, The Northwest Passage (Time-Life Books 1981) 910.4(987)
  • Mawson, Sir Douglas, The Home of the Blizzard: being the story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914 (London, Heinemann, 1915) 910.4(99) "1911/1914"
  • Maxtone-Graham, John, Safe Return Doubtful: The Heroic age of Polar exploration (New York, Charles Scribner, 1988) 910.4(98/99)
  • Ponting, Herbert and Hurley, Frank, introd. Boddington, Jennie, Antarctic Photographs, 1910–1916: Scott, Mawson, and Shackleton Expeditions (MacMillan 1979) 910.4(99) "1910/1916"
  • Savours, Ann, The Search for the North West Passage (Chatham Publishing, 1999) 910.4(987) A18/19"
  • Shackleton, Sir Ernest H, South: The Story of Shackleton's last expedition, 1914–17 (London, Heinemann, 1920) 910.4(99) "1914/1917":94

Useful addresses

Scott Polar Research Institute

University of Cambridge

Lensfield Road

Cambridge CB2 1ER

Tel: 01223 336540

Fax: 01223 336549


Royal Research Ship Discovery

Discovery Point

Discovery Quay

Dundee DD1 4XA

Tel: 01382 201245

Fax: 013822 225 891

Royal Geographical Society

1 Kensington Gore

London SW7 2AR

Tel: 020 7591 3000

Fax: 020 7591 3001


The Oates Museum


Hampshire GU34 3JH

Tel: 01420 511 275

Fax: 01420 511 1613


Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for research:

For general research help see:


Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.