Alexander McDonald collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by McDonald the majority of which was written during the early stages of the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin)

Administrative / Biographical History

Alexander McDonald [MacDonald] studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. In 1840, he participated in the British Whaling and Exploring Expedition, sailing to Baffin Island in Bon Accord under Captain William Penny. In 1845, he was appointed assistant surgeon in HMS Terror under Francis Crozier on the ill-fated British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1845-1848 (leader Sir John Franklin), sent by the Admiralty to complete the search for a Northwest Passage beyond Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait in the unexplored region south-west of Barrow Strait. Terror and HMS Erebus were last seen by two whalers in northern Baffin Bay in late July 1845, heading for Lancaster Sound. After that, the expedition disappeared and Europeans never again saw its members alive. Many searches were conducted for the missing expedition during the course of which the main facts regarding the route taken and final fate of the expedition were established. The two vessels had become beset north of King William Island, where they had spent two winters between September 1846 and April 1848. Franklin died on 11 June 1847 and the command had devolved on Crozier. Abandoning the two vessels on 22 April 1848, the 105 survivors led by Crozier set out toward Back River. All perished during the journey. McDonald was the author of A narrative of some passages in the history of Eenoolooapik, a young Esquimaux, who was brought to Britain in 1839, in the ship Neptune of Abderdeen... published in 1826.


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 Clive Holland Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia Garland Publishing, London (1994) and William Mills Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia San Diego and Oxford, 2003 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 McDonald. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.