Edward Belcher collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to two of Belcher's expeditions, the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828 (leader Frederick William Beechey) sent by the Admiralty to northwest Alaska and the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (led by Belcher) sent by the Admiralty to the Canadian Arctic in search of the missing British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin).

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Belcher was born on 27 February 1799 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 1812, he entered the Navy, serving off the coast of North America and in the African Station and rising to the rank of lieutenant in 1818. In 1825, he was appointed assistant surveyor in HMS Blossom on the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828 (leader Frederick William Beechey), instructed by the Admiralty to await the arrival of the expeditions of William Edward Parry and John Franklin, and to conduct exploratory and scientific work in the Pacific Ocean and Bering Strait.

Promoted commander in 1829, Belcher took command of HMS Aetna, employed in the survey of the west coast of Africa between 1830 and 1833. On his return to Britain, Belcher was appointed to conduct a survey of the Irish Sea, later replacing Beechey in the command of HMS Sulphur, sent by the Admiralty to undertake surveys of the west coasts of North and South America between 1836 and 1842. While on the Pacific Station he participated in the First China War, taking part in the capture of Wangtong. On his return, he published his Narrative of a Voyage round the World performed in HMS Sulphur during the years 1836-1842, and was knighted in 1843. Between 1843 and 1846, he was placed in charge of HMS Samarang for surveys in the South China Sea, publishing the narrative of his voyage in 1848.

In 1852, Belcher led the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854, commanding a squadron of five ships in a voyage to the regions of Wellington Channel and Melville Island in search of Franklin's missing expedition. Belcher was later criticised for ordering the abandonment of four ships that had become beset in the ice, but a court martial acquitted him. Advancing from rear admiral in 1861 to vice-admiral in 1866, he was finally raised to the rank of admiral in 1872. He died on 18 March 1877 in London.

Published work The last of the Arctic voyages; being a narrative of the expedition in HMS Assistance under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher in search of Sir John Franklin during the years 1852-53-54 by (Sir) Edward Belcher, Lovell Reeve, London (1855) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1852-1854 Belcher]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds covering each expedition 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 'Belcher, Sir Edward' by Basil Stuart-Stubbs in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 10 edited by Marc La Terreur, University of Toronto Press, Toronto (1972) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1966-] and British polar exploration and research, a historical and medallic record with biographies 1818-1999 by Lieutenant Colonel Neville W Poulsom and Rear Admiral John A L Myres, Savannah Publications, London (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 737.2 and Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003

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 Belcher's expeditions. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.