John Balleny collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Expedition, 1838-1839 (Captains John Balleny and Thomas Freeman) to the southern oceans.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Balleny was born circa 1770. Little is known of his early life and education. In 1798, Balleny, living at St. George's in the East, then the shipping quarter of London, he was co-owner of a cargo ship, Blenheim. From 1814 to 1824, he was recorded as master of several ships trading along the east coast of England. His name is absent from shipping records in the following years, suggesting that he may have retired from the sea. In July 1838, Messrs. Enderby, the London whaling and sealing firm, bought the schooner, Eliza Scott and appointed Balleny master of the ship, with a commission to search for new lands and sealing or whaling grounds in far southern latitudes. Accompanied by the cutter, Sabrina (Captain Thomas Freeman), he sailed from the Thames on 14 July 1838. After sighting Amsterdam Island the ships reached New Zealand in early December. At Campbell Island in January 1839, he met John Biscoe on a similar search for land in the Antarctic. The expedition reached 69°South in the Ross Sea in February, before being stopped by the pack ice. On 9 February 1839, Balleny sighted land, north of the Ross Sea, in latitude 66.7°South and longitude 162.3°East. This group of five islands were later named the Balleny Islands in his honour. Approaching one of the larger islands, Captain Freeman jumped ashore to collect rocks from a narrow beach, making the first landing south of the Antarctic Circle. Sailing westwards, Balleny described 'the appearance of land', about 65°South, 120°East, east of what is now known as Sabrina Coast. Unable to approach closer, the two ships headed northward. On the night of 24 March, in a severe gale, Sabrina sank with all hands. Eliza Scott returned safely to Britain, but the voyage was deemed a commercial failure as the sealskins he unloaded paid for only a fraction of the expedition costs.

Between 1840 and 1841, Balleny was master of the new barque, Taglioni, on its voyage to Calcutta, and in 1842, to Australia. He appears to have died around this date, as there is no further record of him.


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 item is signed by the author.

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) and The dictionary of national biography, missing persons ed. Christine S Nicholls, Oxford University Press (1994) and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library Shelf (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.

Personal Names