Nathaniel Brown Palmer collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the United States Sealing Voyage, 1820-1821 (leader Benjamin Pendleton) from Stonington to the South Atlantic.

Administrative / Biographical History

Nathaniel Brown Palmer was born on 8 August 1799 in Stonington, Connecticut. He went to sea in 1813, and was first employed in the coasting trade from Maine to New York. At the age of eighteen, he was given his first command of the schooner Gleaner, and in the following year, sailed as second mate aboard the sealing brig Hersilia on the United States Sealing Voyage (from Stonington), 1819-1820 (leader James Sheffield), in a search for new sealing grounds. The expedition searched for the Aurora Islands, found Shag Rocks and possibly Black Rock, and in January 1820, visited the Falkland Islands and South Shetland Islands, the first United States sealing vessel to reach the latter, which had only been discovered the previous year.

In the following season, Palmer commanded a sloop, Hero, on the United States sealing voyage (from Stonington), 1820-1821 (leader Benjamin Pendleton), returning as part of a fleet to the Falkland Islands, South Shetland Islands and Isla de los Estados. While the rest of the fleet hunted, Hero entered Deception Island to search for new sealing grounds. In November 1820, Palmer reported land to the south of Deception Island, which he explored, examining the area now known as Palmer Archipelago, but found no seals. Returning to the South Shetland Islands, he met the ships of the Russian Naval Expedition, 1819-1821 (leader Fabian Gottlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen), off Deception Island, and discussed his findings with Bellingshausen.

The following year he commanded the sloop James Monroe on the United States Sealing Voyage (from Stonington), 1821-1822 (leader Benjamin Pendleton). Joining forces with George Powell of the British sealing voyage, 1821-1822 (from London), Palmer participated in the discovery and charting of the South Orkney Islands in December 1821.

Palmer made several later voyages between the United States and Europe. He returned to the South Shetland Islands on a final sealing voyage in the brig Annawan, in company with his brother Captain Alexander Palmer in the brig Penguin, on the United States Sealing Voyage (from New York and Stonington), 1829-1831 (leaders Nathaniel Brown Palmer and Benjamin Pendleton). Independent scientists who made biological and geological investigations and collections accompanied them on this voyage. Thereafter, he became a prosperous ship owner, contributing to the design and development of clipper ships trading to Europe, the Antipodes and China. He died on 21 June 1877 in San Francisco on his return from a trip to China.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to 'Stonington Antarctic explorers' by Edwin Swift Balch in Bulletin of the American Geographical Society (August 1909) volume 41 number 8 p473-492 SPRI Library Shelf Pam (722)91(091) and Americans in Antarctica 1775-1948 by Kenneth J. Bertrand, American Geographical Society New York (1971) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(091) Captain Nathaniel Brown Palmer, an old-time sailor of the sea by John R. Spears, Macmillan Company New York (1922) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Palmer, N.B.] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.