Elisha Kent Kane collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the United States Franklin Search Expedition, 1853-1855 (led by Kane) and correspondence by Kane with Jane, Lady Franklin

Administrative / Biographical History

Elisha Kent Kane was born on 3 February 1820 at Philadelphia, the son of the distinguished jurist John Kintzing Kane. In 1839, he took up the study of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania after illness forced him to withdraw from the University of Virginia in 1838. Upon graduating in 1842, he applied for service in the US Navy, travelling the following year as physician attached to a US diplomatic mission to China while awaiting his commission. He took the opportunity to travel extensively in the Orient before returning to the United States in 1845 by way of Egypt and Europe. During the next four years, Kane served as assistant surgeon with the US Navy off the west coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean, and along the eastern coast of the United States, in addition to participating in the Mexican-American War.

In 1850, Kane was appointed surgeon in Advance on the United States Franklin Search Expedition [first Grinnell expedition], 1850-1851 (leader Edwin Jesse De Haven), instructed by the US Navy to search for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition in the vicinity of Barrow Strait, northward in Wellington Channel, and westward to Cape Walker. After assisting Horatio Thomas Austin and William Penny in investigating Beechey Island, where Franklin's 1845-1846 winter quarters was discovered, the expedition headed east for Baffin Bay in September 1850. Soon after, Advance and Rescue became beset by pack ice, drifting for over 1600km before breaking free and returning to New York in September 1851. Kane's narrative of the expedition was published in 1854

Kane returned to the Canadian Arctic in Advance in command of the United States Franklin Search Expedition [second Grinnell expedition], 1853-1855. Setting out from New York in May 1853, the expedition followed the west coast of Greenland through Baffin Bay and Smith Sound, to discover the broad basin later named Kane Basin. Between 1853 and 1854, boat and sledge parties examined and mapped Kane Basin, discovering the great Humboldt Gletscher, and explored the Kennedy Channel, thus establishing the routes that led later explorers toward the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole. Abandoning Advance in May 1855, the expedition travelled to Upernavik, later returning home with a relief expedition. Kane completed his account of the second expedition in 1856, shortly before visiting Britain where he was awarded the Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Proceeding next to Cuba where he hoped to find relief for the diseases he had contracted on his travels, he died at Havana on 16 February 1857.

Published work The US Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, a personal narrative by Elisha Kent Kane, Sampson Low, Son and Co. London (1854) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1850-1851 De Haven] Arctic explorations, the second Grinnell expedition in search of Sir John Franklin, 1853, 1854, 1855 by Elisha Kent Kane, Childs and Peterson Philadelphia (1856) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1853-1855 Kane]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of expedition material and correspondence respectively

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 'Kane, Elisha Kent' by Robert E Johnson in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 8 edited by Francess G Halpenny, University of Toronto Press Toronto (1985) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1966-] and Doctor Kane of the Arctic Seas by George W Corner, Temple University Press Philadelphia (1972) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Kane, E.K.]

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