James William Robinson collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of papers written by Robinson regarding his carrier as a whaling and sealing captain based in Hobart, Tasmania during the nineteenth century.

Administrative / Biographical History

James William Robinson was born in April of 1824, the son of George William Robinson (A member of the crew of the whaling vessel General Gates. Educated in Hobart and Providence, Rhode Island he returned to Hobart and took up whaling soon becoming one of the outstanding seamen of the port. In 1858, Robinson joined the rush of sealing voyages to Heard Island following news of the large number of elephant seals to be found there. He commanded the whaler Offley on the Tasmanian Sealing Voyage, 1858-1860. When the tender Elizabeth Jane failed to reach Heard Island, Robinson arranged for the United States schooner Mary Powell to act as tender to the sealing gang on the island. However the schooner was wrecked and the sealing gang required rescue by the schooner Cornelia. On the return of the expedition a series of legal actions were brought before the court at Hobart as a result of the sufferings endured by the crew.

Reports of coal deposits on Iles Kerguelen made by the expedition caused Tasmanian and British mining enterprises to enquire about leasing the island on several occasions over the next twenty years. These came to nothing as owing to the poor quality of the coal and questions regarding sovereignty.

Robinson's wife accompanied him on the sealing voyage and gave birth to their son James Kerguelen Robinson on 11 March 1859; Robinson died in 1906.


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 'Captain J W Robinson's narrative of a sealing voyage to Heard Island, 1858-1860' edited by W E L H Crowther in The Polar Record (September 1970) volume 15, number 96 p301-316 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.

Geographical Names