Brian Roberts collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937 (leader John Rymill).

Administrative / Biographical History

Brian Birley Roberts was born on 23 October 1912 at Bishopsgarth, Woking, Surrey. At the age of ten, he read In the realm of the Arctic poppy by Raymond Raife, inspiring his interest in polar exploration. He was educated at Uppingham School where he became particularly interested in ornithology and photography, and at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. While an undergraduate, he organized and led the Cambridge University Expedition to Vatnajokull in Iceland in 1932 and the Cambridge University Expedition to Scoresby Sund in East Greenland in 1933.

Roberts joined the British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937 (leader John Rymill), as an ornithologist, spending the austral winter of 1935 at the Argentine Islands and, after an operation to remove his appendix, the following winter on South Georgia where he studied Antarctic birds and elephant seals. On his return to Britain, he worked on the scientific reports of the expedition and his ornithological results, receiving his doctorate in 1940.

During the Second World War, Roberts was involved in research on cold climate clothing and equipment, and was a member of the intelligence division of the Admiralty producing geographical handbooks on Iceland, Spitsbergen and Greenland. In 1944, he was appointed to the Foreign Office Research Department and, in 1945, became secretary of the UK Antarctic Place-names Committee and a committee-member of the British Glaciological Society, editing its new Journal of Glaciology.

In 1946, he joined the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, as a part-time research fellow. His knowledge of the civil service helped him to gain government support for the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1949-1952, and continuing support for the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS).

Roberts was involved in drafting the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, and in 1961 became the official UK observer on the United States Naval 'Operation Deep-Freeze'. In 1960, his research fellowship was changed to the special post of research associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute, where he took a special interest in library and information activities. He developed and edited the Universal Decimal Classification for use in Polar libraries, and in 1976 assisted Librarian Harry King in publishing the library's catalogue in nineteen volumes, making knowledge of the Institute's collections available world-wide.

He received several awards, including the CMG in 1969 and the Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1976. Retiring from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1975, he died on 9 October 1978.

Published work Universal Decimal Classification for use in Polar libraries by Brian Birley Roberts, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge (1963) SPRI Library Shelf 025.45, Handbook of clothing and equipment required in cold climates by Brian Birley Roberts and George Colin Lawder Bertram, War Office, London (1941) SPRI Library Shelf 685.5, British Graham Land Expedition, 1934-1937, scientific reports by Brian Birley Roberts and others, British Museum (Natural History) London (1940-41) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1934-1937 Rymill], Edward Wilson's birds of the Antarctic edited by Brian Roberts from the original illustrations in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Blandford Press, Poole (1980) SPRI Library Shelf (7)598.2


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 The Polar Record volume 19 number 121 January 1979 p399-404 and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Polar pundit, reminiscences about Brian Birley Roberts, edited by Harold Godfrey Rudolf King and Ann Margaret Savours, Polar Publications, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge (1995) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Roberts, B.] and Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, by Robert Keith Headland (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.