Robert McCormick collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by McCormick to Edward Parry regarding the Arctic explorer William Edward Parry.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert McCormick was born on 22 July 1800 at Runham, Norfolk, the son of a naval surgeon. He studied medicine at Guy's and St Thomas's hospitals in London, becoming a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1822. He entered the Royal Navy the following year as an assistant surgeon in the flagship HMS Queen Charlotte, serving in the Caribbean until 1825 when he was invalided home after contracting yellow fever. He first travelled to the Arctic in 1827 when he was appointed assistant surgeon in HMS Hecla on the British Naval North Polar Expedition (leader William Edward Parry), sent by the Admiralty to attempt to reach the North Pole from Svalbard using boats fitted with sledge runners. McCormick was not a member of the polar party, remaining in Spitsbergen to study the plants, animals and geology of the region. On his return to England, he was promoted to the rank of surgeon, later resuming duty in the Caribbean, but was invalided home in 1830 and again in 1834.

In 1839, McCormick was appointed surgeon and naturalist in HMS Erebus on the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), sent by the Admiralty to conduct a series of magnetic observations in the southern hemisphere and to locate and reach the South Magnetic Pole if possible. On his return from the expedition, he was elected honorary fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1844 and the following year was appointed surgeon to the yacht HMS William and Mary, later transferring to the Woolwich Dockyard.

McCormick returned to the Arctic on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader William Pullen), as surgeon in HMS North Star, the store ship for the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher). Between August and September 1852, he explored the Wellington Channel in Forlorn Hope, mapping the east side of the channel and establishing the probability of a connection between Baring Bay and Jones Sound. His narrative of the boat journey was published on his return in 1854.

In 1859, McCormick was promoted deputy inspector-general of hospitals and fleets, a post he held until his retirement in 1865. His account of the three expeditions was published in two volumes in 1884. He died on 25 October 1890 at Wimbledon.

Published work Voyages of discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic seas, and round the world... by Robert McCormick, Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington London (1884) SPRI Library Shelf (2)91(091)[pub.1884] Narrative of a boat expedition in the Wellington Channel in the year 1852, under the command of R McCormick in Forlorn Hope in search of Sir John Franklin by Robert McCormick, Eyre and Spottiswoode London (1854) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1852-1854 Belcher]


The correspondence to Edward Parry 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 'McCormick, Robert' by Robert E Johnson in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 11 edited by Francess G Halpenny, University of Toronto Press Toronto (1982) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1966-] and Dictionary of National Biography volume 43 Smith, Elder & Co. London (1895) 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 Ross in the Antarctic the voyages of James Clark Ross in Her Majesty's Erebus and Terror 1839-1843 by Maurice James Ross, Caedmon of Whitby (1982) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1839-1843 Ross]

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.

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Further accessions possible