William Kennedy collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Kennedy regarding Sir John Franklin and the missing British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (led by Franklin)

Administrative / Biographical History

William Kennedy was born in 1814 at Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, the son of a chief factor and a Cree Indian mother. He was educated at St Margaret's Hope on the Orkney Islands before returning to Canada in 1833 to join the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC). He spent the next five years in the Ottawa valley, later transferring to the Ungava and Labrador area, before resigning in 1846 over the HBC policy of selling alcohol to the Indians. Moving to Canada West where he began a lobby against the HBC monopoly, he later established a fishery at the mouth of the Saugeen River in 1848, thus becoming one of the founders of Southampton, Canada West.

In 1851, Kennedy was appointed to lead the British Franklin Search Expedition, 1851-1852, sponsored by Lady Franklin and by public subscription to search for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition in Prince Regent Inlet and in the area southwest of Cape Walker, Barrow Strait. Sailing from Aberdeen in May 1851 in Prince Albert, Kennedy penetrated Lancaster Sound into Prince Regent Inlet. During an attempt to enter Port Leopold on Somerset Island, Kennedy was separated from the ship and was marooned for more than five weeks while his second-in-command Joseph-Ren Bellot took the ship to Batty Bay to establish winter quarters before returning overland to rescue him. In February 1852, Kennedy and Bellot set out from Batty Bay on a dog sledge journey to search the adjacent coasts, sledging south along the coast of Somerset Island and discovering a channel which Kennedy later named Bellot Strait, marking the northernmost extremity of the North American continent. Passing through the strait, the party traversed Peel Sound and continued west, crossing Prince of Wales Island to Ommanney Bay before returning to the ship in May, a journey of some 2,000 km. Kennedy's narrative of the expedition was published in 1853.

In 1853, a second expedition under Kennedy was organized to search for Franklin in the western and Russian Arctic via the Bering Strait but this was aborted after the crew mutinied in Chile. Returning to Canada in 1856, Kennedy resumed his lobby against the HBC, arguing for the annexation of Rupert's Land to Canada, and he became a director of the North-West Transportation, Navigation and Railway Company. In 1860, he settled permanently at St Andrews, Manitoba, where he operated a store with his brother, later serving as a member of the Board of Education of Manitoba and as a magistrate. He died on 25 January 1890 at St Andrews.

Published work A short narrative of the second voyage of the Prince Albert, in search of Sir John Franklin by William Kennedy, W H Dalton, London (1853) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1851-1852 Kennedy]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient

Conditions Governing Access

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 William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and 'Kennedy, William' by Edward Charles Shaw 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 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

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