Alister Forbes Mackay collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton).

Administrative / Biographical History

Alister Forbes Mackay was born in Argyllshire, Scotland in 1877. He served as a trooper in the South African War before joining the Royal Navy as surgeon. In 1907, he was selected for the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton), as surgeon. In March 1908, Mackay was a member of the party making the first ascent of Mount Erebus (3794 metres). Shackleton decided that one of the major journeys during the coming months should be to the South Magnetic Pole, and in October 1908, a party consisting of Mackay, Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson, set out westward across McMurdo Sound in an attempt to reach it. On 16 January 1909, the three men reached the near vicinity of the Magnetic Pole, taking possession of Victoria Land for Britain.

Mackay joined the Canadian Arctic Expedition, 1913-1918 (leader Vilhjalmur Stefansson), as surgeon in Karluk. The vessel was originally attached to the Northern Division of this expedition, and assigned the role of establishing a base for Stefansson and the scientists on the north-western fringe of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. However, after transporting Stefansson to Alaska, Karluk became beset in the ice and sank. Led by the ship's captain Bob Bartlett, a camp was established on the ice at the site of the wreck. In February 1914, Mackay left with three companions in an attempt to reach land, and was last seen approaching Herald Island.


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 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Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN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 Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Shackleton's Lieutenant; the Nimrod Diary of A.L.A. Mackintosh, British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 edited by Stanley Newman, Polar Publications Ltd (1990) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1907-1909 Shackleton] and Arctic exploration and development c.500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Anthony Holland, Garland Publishing Inc. New York (1994)

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.