Sir William Huggins collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence regarding the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott) and testimonials for Ernest Henry Shackleton regarding the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Huggins was born in 1824 in London. He was educated at the City of London School and under private tutors. In 1854, he joined the Royal Astronomical Society and two years later, built a private observatory at Tulse Hill, London. Using a spectroscope, a new instrument that he and William Allen Miller had devised, Huggins began to study the chemical constitution of stars, proving that some nebulae consist of luminous gas.

In 1866, Huggins made the first spectroscopic observation of a nova, discovering that it was enveloped in blazing hydrogen. He applied the Doppler effect to the measurement of stellar motions in the line of sight. In 1875, he adapted the gelatin dry-plate for making astronomical photographs; making possible exposures of any desired length, and thereafter, pioneered the combined use of spectroscopy and photography in observational astronomy. Between 1900 and 1906, Huggins served as president of the Royal Society in London. He was knighted in 1897 and was awarded many honours throughout his life. He died in 1910 in London.


The correspondence and testimonials are 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.


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Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN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 and Dictionary of National Biography, second supplement, volume 2, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1912) and info please and Encyclopedia

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.