Frank Worsley collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, [Weddell Sea Party] 1914-1916 (leader sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), Worsley's time in Russia during the First World War, the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, 1921-1922 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), the British Arctic Expedition, 1925 (led by Worsley) to Zemlya Fransta-Iosifa, published work, correspondence by Worsley and biographical material.

Administrative / Biographical History

Frank Arthur Worsley was born at Akaroa, New Zealand, on 22 February 1872. At the age of fifteen, he was apprenticed in sailing ships of the New Zealand Shipping Company, later becoming mate and then master of New Zealand government schooners working in the South Pacific. Subsequently, he sailed in steamers and was commissioned in the Royal Naval Reserve. Worsley was appointed master of the Endurance on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition [Weddell Sea Party], 1914-1916 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton). After the Endurance was crushed in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, the crew lived for six months on drifting ice until it broke up east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Boats were launched and Worsley took charge of the Dudley Docker cutter in the escape to Elephant Island. Ten days later, he successfully navigated the lifeboat James Caird on the epic sixteen-day journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. On arrival there, he crossed the island with Shackleton and Tom Crean to seek help from the whalers for those left on Elephant Island.

During the First World War, Worsley commanded P and Q (mystery) ships and was twice decorated for successful operations against U-boats. He also served on the North Russian front as an advisor on Arctic equipment and transport. After the war, he made his second Antarctic voyage as sailing master and hydrographer in the Quest on the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, 1921-1922. From then on, until his retirement from the sea in 1939, Worsley sailed in occasional trading vessels.

In 1925, he was joint leader, with Grettir Algarsson, of an Arctic expedition to Franz Josef Land (The British Arctic Expedition) in the auxiliary sailing ship Island and in 1935, he joined a treasure-hunting expedition to the Cocos Islands. During the Second World War, he served as an RNR officer and instructor at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and worked for the Red Cross in Norway. He died at Claygate, Surrey on 1 February 1943.

Published work, First voyage in a square-rigged ship by Frank Arthur Worsley, Geoffrey Bles, London (1938) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Worsley, F.A.] and Endurance; an epic of polar adventure by Frank Arthur Worsley, W.W. Norton & Company, New York (1999) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1914-1917 Shackleton] and Shackleton's boat journey by Frank Arthur Worsley, Pimlico, London (1999) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1914-1917] and Under sail in the frozen north by Frank Arthur Worsley, Stanley Paul London (1927) SPRI Library Shelf (3)91(08)[1925]


The collection is split into seven sub-fonds comprising of expedition material, war service in Russia, published works, correspondence and biographical material respectively.

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 Commander F.A. Worsley by Robert Selbie Clark and James Mann Wordie in The Polar Record (July 1943) volume 4 number 26 p88-89 and Shackleton's captain, a biography of Frank Worsley by John Bell Thomson, Hazard Press, Christchurch (1998) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Worsley, F.A.] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7)

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 expedition's Worsley was involved with. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.