Henry Foster collection

Scope and Content

The collection relates to two expeditions, the British Naval Scientific Expedition, 1823 (leader Douglas Clavering) to Svalbard and the British Naval Expedition, 1828-1831 (led by Foster) to the Antarctic.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Foster was born in 1796 in Lancashire, England. In 1812, he joined the naval service as a volunteer in HMS York. While serving in the Navy in 1820, he was trained to make observations with the pendulum, thereby obtaining admission to the Royal Society. In 1823, he was appointed midshipman in HMS Griper on the British Naval Scientific Expedition (leader Douglas Clavering), sent by the Board of Longitude to Svalbard and the east coast of Greenland to enable the astronomer Edward Sabine to extend his observations on the length of the seconds pendulum. In 1824, Foster was made lieutenant and joined the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1824-1825 (leader William Edward Parry), as astronomer to the expedition, sailing in HMS Hecla under William Edward Parry. During this expedition, he conducted experiments in magnetism, refraction, and the velocity of sound, besides making astronomical observations. For these he received the Copley Medal of the Royal Society and the rank of commander in 1827. Foster made his third voyage to the Arctic in 1827 when he served as lieutenant on the British Naval North Polar Expedition (leader William Edward Parry), sent by the Admiralty to attempt to reach the North Pole from Svalbard using boats fitted with sledge runners for travel over both water and ice. While two parties were attempting to reach the North Pole, Foster surveyed Hinlopenstretet south to 79° 33 minutes North.

On his return, Foster was appointed to lead the British Naval Expedition, 1828 - 1831, in command of HMS Chanticleer. The expedition visited Isla de los Estados, and the South Shetland Islands to make pendulum and magnetic observations on Deception Island. Deception Island was charted and the expedition made surveys of Isla de los Estados and southern Tierra del Fuego. Maximum and minimum thermometers were left at Port Foster, Deception Island, which were later collected by the United States Sealing Voyage (from Newport), 1841-1842 (leader William Horton Smyley). While measuring the difference of longitude between Panama and Chagres, Foster was drowned in Chagres River in Panama on 5 February 1831. Horatio Thomas Austin took over command of the expedition.


The collection is split into two sub-fonds containing material relating to the two expeditions respectively.

Access Information

By appointment.

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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 signs the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Memoirs of hydrography... part I (1750-1830), by L.S. Dawson, Cornmarket Press London (1969) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08) 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 and Clive Holland Arctic, exploration and development circa 500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486

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.

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