Robert Fildes collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British sealing voyages, 1820-1821 and 1821-1822.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Fildes was born on 13 July 1793 in Liverpool, England. He commanded merchant vessels from 1814, but the direction of his career changed when the news of the discovery of the South Shetland Islands by William Smith reached England in 1820. Ship owners learned that a quick profit was to be made from the fur seals that inhabited these islands. His father-in-law, Henry Wood, bought the brig Cora and Fildes was appointed master, leading the British sealing voyage, 1820-1821, from Liverpool. The expedition visited the Falkland Islands and South Shetland Islands, but Cora was wrecked on Desolation Island on 6 January 1821. Fildes prepared several charts and the first sailing directions for the islands while living in a hut made from the wreck. He and some of the crew were taken back to Liverpool aboard Indian.

The voyage of the Cora had brought Fildes financial loss, and he had to find another ship. Henry Wood offered him command of the brig Robert and Fildes again led a British sealing voyage, 1821-1822, from Liverpool. This expedition visited the Falkland Islands and Fildes made a comprehensive report about the South Shetland Islands. Robert was moored in Clothier Harbour for most of the summer but in March 1822, the brig sank.

After a brief period of unemployment on his return to England, Fildes became master of the brig Frances Ernest, a command he held for four years. Fildes died on 28 December 1827, shortly after the brig was badly damaged in a severe storm. Fildes Peninsula, at the southwestern end of King George Island, South Shetland Islands, is named for him.


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 item is signed by the author.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to 'Captain Robert Fildes in New South Shetland' by A.G.E. Jones, in Notes and Queries (February 1975) p70-75 SPRI Library Shelf Pam 92[Fildes, Robert] 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.