Frederick William Beechey collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Beechey regarding the publication of his narrative on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1818 (leader David Buchan). The correspondence also contains mention of the search for the missing British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin)

Administrative / Biographical History

Frederick William Beechey was born on 17 February 1796 in London, son of the well-known artist Sir William Beechey. In 1806, he entered the Navy, later participating in the attack on New Orleans in 1815, for which he was promoted lieutenant later in the same year. In 1818, he was appointed lieutenant in HMS Trent on the British Naval North Polar Expedition (leader David Buchan), organized by the Admiralty in an unsuccessful attempt to seek a passage from Svalbard by way of the North Pole to Bering Strait and the Pacific Ocean. Beechey wrote an account of the expedition in Voyage of discovery towards the North Pole (1843), in which his sketches of Arctic scenery were reproduced. In 1819, he was appointed lieutenant in HMS Hecla on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1819-1820 (leader William Edward Parry), sent by the Admiralty to seek a Northwest Passage through Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic. Beechey's sketches of the Arctic landscape were later published in Parry's personal narrative Journal of a voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage (1821).

Between 1821 and 1822, Beechey was attached to a survey of the north coast of Africa, an account of which he later published with his brother Henry William, a civilian member of the expedition. Promoted commander in 1822, he was appointed to lead the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828, instructed by the Admiralty to await the arrival of the expeditions of Parry and Sir John Franklin, and to conduct exploratory and scientific work in the Pacific Ocean and Bering Strait. Setting sail from Spithead in HMS Blossom in May 1825, the expedition reached Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in June 1826 where Beechey learned that Parry's expedition had already returned home. The following month, the expedition proceeded to Chamisso Island in Alaska from where an advance party reached Point Barrow on 23 August, missing Franklin, who had come within 300 kilometres of Point Barrow, by only five days. After wintering in the Pacific, Beechey sailed north to the Bering Strait in the summer of 1827, but finding no trace of Franklin, returned to England by way of Cape Horn. Although the expedition was unsuccessful in obtaining any information about Franklin's progress, many islands in the Pacific were charted and a detailed survey was conducted of the northwest coast of Alaska from the north of Norton Sound to Point Barrow.

Promoted captain in 1827, Beechey was later appointed by the Admiralty to survey the coasts of South America and Ireland. From 1850, he was appointed by the Board of Trade to superintend and organize the Mercantile Marine. Promoted rear admiral in 1854, he was elected president of the Royal Geographical Society the following year, a post he held until his death on 29 November 1856 in London.

Published work Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering's Strait to co-operate with the polar expeditions, performed in His Majesty's Ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F.W. Beechey ... in the years 1825-1826-1827-1828 by Frederick William Beechey, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London (1831) SPRI Library Special Collection (3)91(08)[1825-1828 Beechey], A voyage of discovery toward the North Pole, performed in His Majesty's ships Dorothea and Trent, under the command of Captain David Buchan, R.N., 1818... by Frederick William Beechey, Bentley London (1843) SPRI Library Shelf (32)91(08)[1818 Buchan]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient.

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.


Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Dictionary of National Biography volume 4, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1885) 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 Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland, Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486 and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills, San Diego and Oxford, 2003

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