Sir John Barrow collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Barrow written during the time he was Second Secretary of the Admiralty.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Barrow was born on 19 June 1764 at Dragleybeck, near Ulverston, North Lancashire. He was educated at Ulverston Grammar School until the age of thirteen. He worked as a clerk in an iron foundry for two years, after which he was offered a place on a voyage to Greenland in a whaler. On his return, he became a teacher of mathematics at the Greenwich Academy in London and a private tutor to the son of Sir George Staunton. Through his friendship with Staunton, Barrow was appointed as Comptroller of the Household on the staff of the newly appointed Ambassador to China, Lord Macartney. Barrow became conversant with the language, literature and science of China. In 1797, Lord Macartney asked Barrow to join his staff as Private Secretary on his important mission to settle the Government of the Cape of Good Hope. He travelled extensively in southern Africa, remaining in the Cape as Auditor-General of Public Accounts. On return to England in 1803, he published two volumes on his travels in southern Africa. In 1804, he was appointed by Lord Melville as Second Secretary of the Admiralty, but was removed from the post after a change of government in 1806. He was re-instated as Second Secretary of the Admiralty in 1807 and was largely responsible for the resurgence of polar exploration, encouraging expeditions to the North Pole and the search for the Northwest Passage. Barrow also played a vital part in founding the Royal Geographical Society in 1830. He remained in the Admiralty until his retirement in 1845 and died in 1849.

Published work, An auto-biographical memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart, late of the Admiralty, including reflections, observations, and reminiscences at home and abroad, from early life to advanced age John Murray, London (1847) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Barrow, J.]


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient.

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 Memoirs of hydrography including brief biographies of the principal officers who have served in H.M. Naval Surveying Service between the years 1750 and 1885 by L.S. Dawson, Cornmarket Press, London (1969) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08) and The Geographical Journal (September 1964) volume 130 part 3 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.

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Further accessions possible.