Jean Baptiste Charcot collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of letters to fellow Antarctic explorer Frank Debenham and general correspondence.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jean-Baptiste Etienne Auguste Charcot was born in France in 1867. He trained as a doctor but gave up his medical practice to become a polar explorer. He led the French Antarctic Expedition, 1903-1905. The expedition prepared to search for the missing Swedish South Polar Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Nils Otto Nordenskjld), but found that the expedition had already been rescued. His ship Le Francais, with a complement of 22 men, then wintered at a station on Booth Island, off the West coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Charcot charted the West side of Palmer Archipelago and also discovered and roughly charted Loubet Coast southwards to Adelaide Island.

Prevented by pack ice from exploring further south, Charcot returned to France and organized the French Antarctic Expedition, 1908-1910, commissioning a new expedition ship Pourquoi Pas?. This expedition visited the South Shetland Islands and the northern Antarctic Peninsula, wintering at Petermann Island in 1909. Charcot charted the West coast of the Peninsula and islands southwards to Adelaide Island and Alexander Island. He sailed south again in the Bellingshausen Sea to within sight of Peter I y, discovering a further ice-bound coast, now called Charcot Island.

These two expeditions established his reputation as a leader in the fields of scientific oceanography, research and survey. After service in the First World War, he continued polar work with a series of ten summer expeditions to the Arctic (1926-1936), in which many young explorers were trained. He died in 1936 on board his ship Pourquoi Pas? in a storm off Iceland.

Published works, Notice sur les titres et travaux scientifiques du Dr J-B. Charcot (French) Masson et Cie, Paris (1921) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Charcot, J B.]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds covering correspondence to Frank Debenham (1883-1965) and general correspondence with other explorers.

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 'Jean Baptiste Charcot, Father of French polar research' by J Malaurie in The Polar Record, (July 1989) volume 25 number 154 p191-196 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.

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library. This material includes photographic collections for Charcot's expeditions to both the Arctic and Antarctic. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.

Corporate Names