William Hobson collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Franklin Search Expedition, 1857-1859 (leader Francis McClintock) and correspondence relating to the expedition by Hobson

Administrative / Biographical History

William Robert Hobson was born in 1831 at Nassau in the Bahamas, second son of Captain William Hobson, the first governor of New Zealand. In 1845, he entered the Royal Navy, serving in a succession of vessels and promoted mate in 1852. In 1853, he was appointed mate in HMS Rattlesnake on the British Naval Supply Voyage, 1853-1854 (leader Henry Trollope), instructed by the Admiralty to deliver supplies to HMS Plover in Bering Strait and to serve as a depot for other vessels engaged in the search for Sir John Franklin's missing expedition. Sailing from England in February 1853, Rattlesnake entered the Pacific via the Strait of Magellan, reaching Port Clarence, Alaska, where the expedition wintered after transferring supplies to Plover. In February 1854, Hobson set off on a sledge journey northward across the Seward Peninsula to Chamisso Island to search for traces of Franklin's expedition but returned to Rattlesnake the following month. In August 1854, Hobson transferred to Plover shortly before she returned home.

After this voyage, Hobson served in HMS Majestic from 1854 until 1857 when he joined Fox on the British Franklin Search Expedition, 1857-1859 (leader Francis Leopold McClintock), a private expedition sent to search for relics of Franklin's expedition in the area of King William Island. In the spring of 1859, Hobson led a sledge party to the west coast of King William Island where he discovered a note in a cairn establishing the date of Franklin's death (11 June 1847) and proving that the expedition had discovered the existence of a Northwest Passage. Hobson examined the coast south to near Cape Herschel before returning to the ship in June. On his return to England, he was promoted commander and was appointed to command HMS Pantaloon on the Cape Station, later taking command of HMS Vigilant in the East Indies in 1862. Advancing to the rank of captain in 1866, he retired in 1872. He died on 11 October 1880 at Pitminster Somerset.


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 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 A L Myres, Savannah Publications London (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 737.2 and 'William Robert Hobson (1831-1880)' by William Barr in Arctic Volume 39 number 2 June 1986 p184-185

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 images of Hobson. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.