Ross, papers

Scope and Content

  • MS 655/1-3;BJ Memories and narratives, 1818 to 1849, 3 volumes, holograph
  • MS 1008;MJ Papers and letters by or relating to Sir John Ross, 1818 to 1847, microfilm
  • MS 1397/1;D Miscellaneous letters and notes, 1832 to 1836 [By or relating to Sir John Franklin] 8 leaves, typed transcript
  • MS 1525;BJ Journal, January 1850 to December 1852, 1 volume
  • MS 486/10/1-3;MSM Maps (3) [I Dr Rae's discoveries of 1848, II probable position of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror depots and search ships near Cape Walker, III Map of Greenland, undated]
  • MS 1414;D Diary, 1 January 1850 to 1 January 1852 [Includes his search for Sir John Franklin, 1850-1851] 92 leaves, holograph (Xerox)

Administrative / Biographical History

The papers include material relating to the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1818 (led by Ross), this expedition was the first of many nineteenth century expeditions sent by the Admiralty in search of the passage. The two Ships HMS Isabella (Ross) and HMS Alexander (William Edward Parry) explored the Baffin Bay area sighting Smith Sound, Jones Sound and Lancaster Sound. The first two were erroneously declared to be bays while Lancaster Sound was noted as being a small inlet enclosed by mountains. The expedition passed but did not attempt to enter Cumberland Sound, returning to London in November 1818. Although the expedition failed to find a passage, it confirmed the earlier discoveries of Robert Bylot and William Baffin and encouraged whalers to extend their activities north to Baffin Bay and the coast of Baffin Island

The collection also mentions the British Northwest Passage Expedition, 1829-1833 (led by Ross), sponsored by Felix Booth, a gin distiller. Sailing in the small steamer Victory with his nephew James Clark Ross as second-in-command, the expedition entered Lancaster Sound in August 1829, reaching Prince Regent Inlet shortly afterwards, passing the wreck of HMS Fury (British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1824-1825). Proceeding south, the expedition discovered the Gulf of Boothia and put into winter quarters at Felix Harbour, southeast Boothia Peninsula. From here, Ross and his nephew made several journeys of exploration across Boothia Isthmus, and in May and June 1830, James Clark Ross discovered King William Island. During a sledge journey the following year, James Clark Ross located the North Magnetic Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula on 1 June. During the third winter of 1831 to 1832, Ross decided to abandon ship, leading his men in the spring of 1832 to Fury Beach, where they spent their fourth Arctic winter. The whaler Isabella eventually rescued the expedition in Lancaster Sound on 26 August 1833.

Additional papers relate to the fate of Sir John Franklin. In 1845 Sir John Franklin sailed north in command of the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition. Sent by the Admiralty the two ships HMS Erebus (Franklin) and HMS Terror (Francis Crozier) were to search for a passage via Lancaster Sound. With provisions designed to last three years the expedition sailed north in May 1845. Whalers in Baffin Bay were the last Europeans to see the two ships in July of 1845.

Many searches were conducted for the missing expedition between 1847 and 1859, during the course of which the main facts regarding the route taken and the final fate of the expedition were established. These search expeditions were mounted by the Admiralty and private individuals including Sir John's wife Jane, Lady Franklin. Ross's papers and maps cover some of these search expeditions including his own private British Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 a privately sponsored expedition financed by the Hudson's Bay Co. and public subscription, including a large donation from Felix Booth, the expedition was to search for Franklin along the shores of Barrow Strait and Viscount Melville Sound in the schooner Felix. Balloons and pigeons were used in an attempt to contact Franklin. The expedition sailed with the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (leader Horatio Austin) and assisted in the search of Beechey Island.


The papers are arranged chronological.

Related Material

The Institute holds several archival collections containing material relating to the expeditions sent in search of Sir John Franklin.