John King Davis collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton), The Australasian Antarctic Expedition , 1911-1914 (leader Douglas Mawson), The British Relief Expedition, 1917 to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, [Ross Sea Party] 1914-1917 (Captains Mackintosh and Stenhouse) and general correspondence on polar matters.

Administrative / Biographical History

John King Davis was born in London in 1884. He was educated at London and Burford Grammar School in Oxfordshire and at the age of sixteen he signed on as an apprentice in the Liverpool sailing ship Celtic Chief. Davis joined the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton), as chief officer of Nimrod and received his first command when he succeeded Frederick Pryce Evans as captain on the return voyage. He was then invited to serve as second in command on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 (leader Douglas Mawson), and was captain of the expedition ship Aurora. On this expedition he made three summer voyages of relief and exploration as well as oceanographic cruises between Tasmania and East Antarctica. After becoming involved in the First World War, Davis led the British Relief Expedition, 1917, organized to rescue the survivors of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, [Ross Sea Party], 1914-1917 (Captains Mackintosh and Stenhouse).

In 1920, he became the Director of Navigation for the Commonwealth of Australia and held this post until 1949. His distinguished career also included a period from 1929 to 1930 as captain of Discovery and second in command during the first summer of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1931. He died in Australia on 7 May 1967.

Published works, High latitude Melbourne University Press (1962) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Davis, J.K.]


The collection is split into three sub-fonds, comprising of material relating to Davis's time on the Nimrod and Aurora during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 and the British Relief Expedition, 1917 to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, [Ross Sea Party]. The second sub-fond contains material relating directly to the British Relief Expedition, 1917 and the final sub-fond covers Davis's correspondence.

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 Shackleton's Lieutenant, the Nimrod Diary of A.L.A. Mackintosh, British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 ed. Stanley Newman, Polar Publications Ltd (1990) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1907-1909 Shackleton] and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and 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

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 Davis served on. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.