Herbert Ponting collection

Scope and Content

The Ponting collection is split between the archival collection and the photographic collection. The archival collection comprises of material relating to 90° South, the film Ponting made of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), ephemera and correspondence

The photographic collection is part of the Scott Polar Research Institute Picture Library which holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material, many of which were taken by Ponting. The catalogue for these can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.

Administrative / Biographical History

Herbert George Ponting was born in 1870. He entered banking at the age of eighteen, but left to run a fruit ranch in California. In 1900, he began to cultivate photography and after winning several photographic contests was hired by a stereopticon company to produce views for their machines. He travelled widely in the Far East, South-East Asia and Europe and was a pioneer in the use of the camera as a medium of art rather than a mere recorder of events and persons.

By 1910, Ponting was recognised internationally as a popular photographer and travel writer. He was selected for the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), as camera artist, spending a year in the Antarctic. The technical difficulties of photography in the Antarctic were formidable but Ponting overcame these problems by his technical mastery. He photographed the behaviour of seals and other mammals and birds, behaviour that had previously been a matter of speculation, producing many valuable scientific records. His film of the expedition 90° South remains a classic of polar photography and his work in the Antarctic greatly enhanced his reputation.

After his year in Antarctica, he produced various versions of the film and undertook a number of unsuccessful business enterprises. He was internationally recognised for his work, honours included the Polar Medal, the Royal Geographical Society Medal and a medal from the Emperor of Japan. He died in 1935.


The archival collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of material relating to the film of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott) and correspondence and certificates.

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 The Polar Record (July 1990) volume 26 number 158 p217-224 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

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.

Related Material

See SPRI collection H J P Arnold for letters, photographs, articles and ephemera collected by Arnold for his Photographer of the world, the biography of H G Ponting (London, Hutchinson Press 1969) [This material includes draft chapters and a complete manuscript of the biography]