Richard Beechey collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828 (leader Frederick William Beechey) sent by the Admiralty to northwest Canada

Administrative / Biographical History

Richard Brydges Beechey born 17 May 1808, son of the renowned artist Sir William Beechey and brother of the Arctic explorer, Frederick William Beechey. In 1821, he entered the Royal Naval College, joining HMS Espiegle on the Home station the following year and serving in a succession of vessels until 1825. Returning home, he was appointed midshipman in HMS Blossom under his brother, Frederick William, on the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828, 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. Setting sail from Spithead in May 1825, the expedition reached Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in June 1826 where they learned that Parry's expedition had already returned home. The following month, the expedition proceeded to Chamisso Island in Alaska from where an advance party reached as far east as Point Barrow on 23 August, missing Franklin, by only five days. After wintering in the Pacific, they sailed north to the Bering Strait in the summer of 1827, but finding no trace of Franklin, returned to England by way of Cape Horn. During the expedition, Beechey made sketches and watercolours of the scenery and indigenous people and continued to be a successful marine artist throughout his naval career.

After the expedition, Beechey was promoted to HMS Madagascar on the Mediterranean station, later serving in a succession of vessels until 1831 when he was invalided. In 1835, he joined the survey of the coast of Ireland, where he remained until 1857 when he advanced to the rank of captain. He became a rear admiral on the retired list in 1875 and was promoted vice admiral in 1879. He died in 1895.


The collection is arranged chronologically

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 'Vice admiral R B Beechey, 1835-1857' by L S Dawson in Memoirs of Hydrography Part II Cornmarket Press, London (1969) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1969] 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) ISBN number 0824076486 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, which includes images of Beechey. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.