James Fitzjames collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Fitzjames and papers including material relating to the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin)

Administrative / Biographical History

James Fitzjames entered the Royal Navy in 1825, serving in the Euphrates Expedition under Colonel Chesney from 1834 until 1837. Promoted lieutenant in 1838, he served off the coast of Syria and during the first China War between 1840 and 1842. Advancing to the rank of commander in 1842, he was appointed to HMS Clio, in which he served until 1844. He was appointed commander of HMS Erebus on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin), sent to search for a Northwest Passage beyond Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait in the unexplored region south-west of Barrow Strait. Sailing from London in company with HMS Terror in May 1845, the expedition was last seen heading for Lancaster Sound by two whalers in northern Baffin Bay in late July 1845. After that, the expedition disappeared and Europeans never again saw its members alive. Many searches were conducted for the missing expedition, during the course of which the main facts regarding the route taken and final fate of the expedition were established. The two vessels had become beset north of King William Island, where they had spent two winters between September 1846 and April 1848. According to a message left by Fitzjames, Franklin died on 11 June 1847 and the command had devolved on Francis Crozier. Abandoning the two vessels on 22 April 1848, the 105 survivors led by Crozier, with Fitzjames acting as second-in-command, set out toward Back River. All perished during the journey. Fitzjames had been promoted captain in December 1845 during the expedition.

Published work The last journal of Captain Fitzjames, of the lost polar expedition edited by William Coningham, W Pearce (late Wallis) Brighton SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1845-1848 Franklin]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of correspondence and papers respectively

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 Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and British polar exploration and research a historical and medallic record with biographies 1818-1999 by Lieutenant Colonel Neville W Poulsom and Rear Admiral John AL Myres, Savannah Publications London (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 737.2

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

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library, which includes daguerreotype images of Fitzjames. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.