Henry Kellett collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of letters written by Kellett including those written in HMS Herald during the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1848-1850 (led by Kellett).

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Kellett was born on 2 November 1806 at Clonacody, Tipperary, Ireland. In 1822, he entered the Navy and was employed in the West Indies for five years before serving in survey vessels commanded by William Fitzwilliam Owen and Edward Belcher on the west coast of Africa and in the East Indies. Between 1836 and 1842, he commanded the schooner Starling, engaged in surveying in the Pacific and China, and was promoted captain shortly after distinguishing himself in the China War of 1840-1841.

In 1845, Kellett was selected to command the surveying ship HMS Herald, employed in survey work in the Pacific Ocean. During the summers of 1848 to 1850, he was detached from this service to lead the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1848-1850, assisting HMS Plover under Thomas Moore in the search for the missing northwest passage expedition in Bering Strait. In the summer of 1849, Kellett discovered and landed on Ostrov Geral'd [Herald Island] from where he obtained a distant view of Ostrov Vrangelya [Wrangel Island]. The following summer, Kellett met Robert McClure, commander of HMS Investigator, (British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1854) off Cape Lisburne, Alaska, just before Investigator entered the ice of the Beaufort Sea and disappeared from all contact with the outside world for three years.

Shortly after his return to England in June 1851, Kellett accepted a posting to the command of HMS Resolute on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher), instructed by the Admiralty to search in the region of Melville Island in company with HMS Intrepid under Francis Leopold McClintock. Setting out from London in April 1852, Kellett's ships sailed with Belcher's as far as Beechey Island, Barrow Strait, before parting from the rest of the squadron and proceeding to Dealy Island off the south coast of Melville Island where they put into winter quarters. During a sledging journey in the autumn of 1852, George Mecham, first lieutenant of Resolute, discovered a note left by Robert McClure describing the position of HMS Investigator which had been beset by ice in Mercy Bay since autumn 1851. The crew of were later rescued and transferred to Resolute and Intrepid in the spring of 1853. On the voyage home in the summer of 1853, both vessels became beset in Melville Sound and were forced to spend a further winter in the Arctic. Receiving orders from Belcher to abandon both vessels, the crews travelled to Beechey Island where they returned to England in the depot ship HMS North Star and the supply ships HMS Phoenix and HMS Talbot. In addition to the rescue of McClure, Kellett's expedition was credited with the discovery and charting of Prince Patrick, Eglinton and Emerald Islands and the completion of the charting of Melville Island.

On his return to England, Kellett was appointed commodore in the West Indies and between 1864 and 1867 served as admiral superintendent of Malta Dockyard. He was knighted in 1869, the year in which he was appointed commander-in-chief on the China Station. Retiring with the rank of vice admiral, he died on 1 March 1875 at Clonacody.


The correspondence is entirely on microfilm

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 'Kellett, Sir Henry' by Leslie H Neatby 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 Dictionary of National Biography volume 30, Smith, Elder & Co. (1892)

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