William Speirs Bruce collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to three polar expeditions, the British Whaling Exploration, 1892-1893 (Sometimes called the Dundee Whaling Expedition) to Antarctic waters, the Jackson-Harmsworth Arctic Expedition, 1894-1897 (leader Frederick George Jackson) and the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-1904 (led by Bruce), papers relating to the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate and a large quantity of correspondence.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Speirs Bruce was born in London of Scottish parents in 1867. He was educated at Norfolk County School, England and enrolled as a medical student at the University of Edinburgh, where renowned Scottish physicists, chemists and oceanographers supervised him. In 1892, he was recommended for the post of surgeon and naturalist on board Balaena during the British Whaling Exploration (Dundee), 1892-1893. The expedition was organized to investigate the commercial possibilities of whaling in the Antarctic, although no right whales were successfully caught. The expedition did, however, fire Bruce with an ambition to pursue further polar studies.

Between 1895 and 1896, Bruce worked at the meteorological observatory on Ben Nevis. In 1897 he joined the Jackson-Harmsworth Arctic Expedition, 1894-1897 (leader Frederick George Jackson) to Franz Josef Land as naturalist. After the expedition, he continued his work at the Ben Nevis station, later joining private expeditions to Novaya Zemlya and Svalbard.

Despite considerable financial problems, he organized and led the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition, 1902-1904. The expedition conducted the first oceanographic exploration of the Weddell Sea and discovered Coats Land. Bruce also surveyed Laurie Island in the South Orkney Islands, where a meteorological station (Omond House) was established in 1903. The station has provided the longest continuous record of observations in the Antarctic region, its operation being entrusted to Argentina in 1904.

On his return he became director of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory, a post that enabled him to complete and publish the reports of the expedition. Between 1906 and 1919, Bruce returned to Svalbard on a variety of scientific projects, yet despite many successes in the region, he was unable to raise funds for another Antarctic expedition. He received many scientific awards for his polar research, including the gold medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and the patron's medal of the Royal Geographical Society. However, after the closure of the Scottish Oceanographical Laboratory in 1919 due to lack of financial support, Bruce's health started to deteriorate. He died in Edinburgh on 28 October 1921.

Published works The log of the Scotia expedition, 1902-1904 edited by Peter Speak, Edinburgh University Press (1992) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1902-1904]


The collection is split into six sub-fonds, covering three expeditions, the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate, correspondence with Robert Neal Rudmose Brown and general correspondence.

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 signs the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance of R. Stancombe and reference to 'William Speirs Bruce, Scottish Nationalist and Polar Explorer' by P Speak in The Polar Record, (October 1992) volume 28 number 167 p285-292 and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7) and Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034 and Clive Holland Arctic, exploration and development C 500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486

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. This material includes photographic collections for both the Arctic and Antarctic expeditions Bruce undertook. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.

Edinburgh University also hold an extensive archival collection for Bruce.