Edward Bransfield collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Expedition, 1819-1820 (led by Bransfield, captained by William Smith) to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctica and correspondence regarding James Weddell.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Bransfield was born in County Cork, Ireland, circa 1783. In June 1803, he was pressed into the Royal Navy from a merchant vessel as an ordinary seaman and by August 1805 had been promoted to able seaman. He had a successful career, advancing to quartermaster and midshipman in 1808, and to second master in April 1813. He was appointed master of Phoebe in May 1815, continuing to command various ships for the next few years.

In September 1817, at the request of Captain W.H. Shirreff, the Senior British Naval Officer of the West Coast of South America, Bransfield was appointed master to Andromache and left for South America, reaching Chile in May 1818. It was at this time that Captain William Smith of the ship Williams reported his discovery of New South Britain (the South Shetland Islands) to the British naval authority in Valparaiso. Captain Shirreff then chartered the vessel in order to conduct a survey of the islands, placing Bransfield in charge of the British Expedition, 1819-1820, with the help of three midshipmen. During the course of the voyage Bransfield charted the South Shetland Islands, sighted the Antarctic mainland (just three days after the first sighting by Fabian von Bellingshausen), and reached 63.83°South. He was the first man to chart a portion of mainland Antarctica and his name is commemorated in a peak and an island close to the tip of the Peninsula, as well as in Bransfield Strait to the south of the South Shetland Islands.

Bransfield left the Navy in September 1821 and commanded several ships for the merchant service, he retired to Brighton, where he died on 31 October 1852.


The collection is split into two sub-fonds covering the expedition and correspondence.

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 Polar portraits, collected papers by A.G.E. Jones, Caedmon of Whitby (1992) SPRI Library Shelf (2) 91(091)[1992] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) 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