Sherard Osborn collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (leader Horatio Austin) and correspondence by Osborn

Administrative / Biographical History

Sherard Osborn was born on 25 April 1822. He joined the Navy in 1837, serving in HMS Hyacinth in the Far East where he participated in the first China War before serving in the Pacific as gunnery mate in HMS Collingwood between 1844 and 1848. Promoted lieutenant in 1846, he was later placed in command of the steamer HMS Dwarf employed in patrolling the coast of Ireland in 1848.

In 1850, Osborn was appointed lieutenant in command of HMS Pioneer, the tender to HMS Resolute, on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (leader Horatio Austin), sent by the Admiralty to search for John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition by way of Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. In the spring of 1851, Osborn led a sledge party to the furthest western point of Prince of Wales Land before returning to the ship, having covered more than 900km. During the expedition, Osborn and George McDougall of HMS Resolute produced the ship's newspaper, the Illustrated Arctic News, and his popular narrative of the voyage Stray leaves from an Arctic journal... was published in 1852.

Osborn resumed command of Pioneer on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher), sailing in company with four vessels in a voyage to the regions of Wellington Channel and Melville Island in search of Franklin's expedition. In the spring of 1852, Osborn accompanied George Henry Richards, an officer in HMS Assistance, as far as the northeastern tip of Sabine Peninsula. Retracing his steps, he explored the east coast of Bathurst Island before returning to the ships, covering a total distance of more than 1670km. In September 1853, news reached Osborn of his promotion to the rank of commander and the following year he returned with the expedition to England.

After the expedition, Osborn spent a short time in charge of the Norfolk Coastguard before receiving the command of HMS Vesuvius during the Crimean War in 1855, the year in which he was promoted captain and received the Order of Bath. Taking command of HMS Furious in 1857 during the second China War, he later became involved in the development of European trade with China and Japan, sailing Furious up the Yangtze River to prove its navigability to smaller trading vessels. Invalided home in 1859, he wrote numerous articles and papers for publication, mostly on naval matters and Chinese politics, before he returned to the Navy in 1861, serving off the coast of Mexico and China. Between 1865 and 1866, he acted as agent for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Company in Bombay and from 1867 to 1873, served as managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company. Advancing to the rank of rear admiral in 1873, Osborn was appointed to an Admiralty committee advising on preparations for the British Arctic Expedition, 1875-1876 (leader George Strong Nares). He died on 6 May 1875 at London, shortly before the departure of the expedition.

Published work The career, last voyage and fate of Captain Sir John Franklin by Sherard Osborn, Bradbury and Evans London (1860) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Franklin, John]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of expedition material and correspondence 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 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 and 'Osborn, Sherard' by Clive Holland 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 Dictionary of National Biography volume 42, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1895) 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

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, which includes images of Osborn. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.