Alfred Stephenson collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-1931 (Leader Henry George Watkins), the British International Polar Year Expedition, 1932-1933 (leader James Stagg) and the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937 (leader John Rymill).

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred Stephenson was born on 25 November 1908 at Norwich. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Norwich, and at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, graduating with a degree in geography in 1930. He was appointed chief surveyor to the British Arctic Air Route Expedition, 1930-1931 (leader Henry George Watkins), participating in boat and sledging journeys to survey and chart parts of the east coast of Greenland. Stephenson climbed with Lawrence Rickard Wager to within 550 feet of the summit of Mount Forel, for many years a record height in Greenland. In 1932, he returned to the Arctic with the British Polar Year Expedition to Fort Rae, Canada, 1932-1933 (leader James Martin Stagg), as meteorological observer. He was placed in charge of the dog teams and undertook several sledge journeys in which he conducted surveys in the Great Slave Lake region.

In 1934, he was invited to participate in the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937 (leader John Rymill), as chief surveyor and meteorologist. His skills as both dog-driver and surveyor were crucial to the success of the expedition, in which it was proved that Graham Land was a peninsula and not an archipelago.

On his return to Britain, Stephenson was appointed lecturer in surveying at Imperial College, London. During the Second World War, he served in the Royal Air Force, playing a major part in the development of photo-interpretation techniques, for which he was awarded the OBE. After the war, he returned to Imperial College, where he remained until his retirement in 1972, and during the summers from 1947 to 1949 he worked for the Air Survey Council in Labrador. Between 1946 and 1986, Stephenson was in charge of the surveying instruments held at the Royal Geographical Society, as well as serving on the expeditions committee. He was instrumental in founding the Young Explorers' Trust and was honorary secretary of the Antarctic Club from 1956 until his retirement in 1996 when the club established the Stephenson Award, an annual prize for expedition work within the trust. He died on 3 July 1999 at Southampton.

Published work Southern lights; the official account of the British Graham Land Expedition by John Riddoch Rymill, Alfred Stephenson and Hugh Robert Mill, Chatto and Windus London (1938) SPRI Library Shelf Special Collection (7)91(08)[1934-1937]


The collection is arranged into three sub-fonds comprising of material relating to the three polar expeditions

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 'Alfred Stephenson' by Elizabeth C. Cruwys and George Colin Lawder Bertram in The Polar Record volume 36 number 196 January 2000 p53-56 and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) 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

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, some of which covers the expeditions Stephenson was a member of. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.