Frank Debenham collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), the founding and running of the Scott Polar Research Institute, correspondence, including that with French polar explorer Jean Baptiste Charcot and articles written by Debenham during his long career.

Administrative / Biographical History

Frank Debenham was born on 26 December 1883 in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia. He was educated at the University of Sydney, initially gaining an arts degree before returning to gain a science degree in 1910, specializing in geology under Professor Edgeworth David. In 1910, he joined the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), as geologist, and made extensive geological and topographical surveys of the mountains and glaciers west of McMurdo Sound. He was also responsible for the photographic work of the expedition after the official photographer, Herbert Ponting, left in 1912.

On his return from the expedition, Debenham went to Cambridge, England to write up the results, but this work was interrupted by the First World War. Joining the Army, he rose to the rank of Major and saw action in Salonika, where he was severely wounded. On his return to Cambridge after demobilization, he resumed work on the expedition reports on geology and maps and surveys. His abilities in this field were recognised when he was appointed Royal Geographical Society lecturer in surveying at the University of Cambridge in 1919. This was followed by a readership in geography, and in 1931, he was appointed first professor of geography at the university. Instrumental in founding the Scott Polar Research Institute in 1920, he was its first director from 1926 until 1946. He also founded The Polar Record in 1931, becoming its first editor. After his retirement in 1949, he travelled and worked in central Africa and published scientific papers and books on polar and geographical matters. He died in Cambridge on 23 November 1965.

Published work, In the Antarctic, stories of Scott's last expedition; with illustrations by Edward Wilson and the author, Frank Debenham, Erskine Press, England (1998) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1910-1913] and The polar regions by Frank Debenham, Ernest Benn Ltd. London (1930) SPRI Library Shelf (2) and Antarctica, the story of a continent by Frank Debenham, Herbert Jenkins London (1959) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(091)[pub 1959] and The quiet land; the Antarctic diaries of Frank Debenham, member of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913, Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press, Harleston (1992) SPRI Library Shelf (7) 91(08)[1910-1913]


The collection is split into four sub-fonds covering the Antarctic expedition, correspondence with Charcot, general correspondence (Relating in particular to the Institute) and articles complied by Debenham.

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 The Polar Record (May 1966) volume 13 number 83 p215-217 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.