Sir Horatio Austin collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851 (led by Austin) and correspondence by Austin regarding the search for Sir John Franklin and his missing expedition.

Administrative / Biographical History

Horatio Thomas Austin was born in 1801 in England, the son of an official in the Chatham dockyard. In 1813, he joined the Navy under the patronage of Captain Sir Thomas Hardy, soon afterwards serving in Ramillies during the American War of 1812-1814. For the next nine years, he served as midshipman off the coast of Africa, in the English Channel and on the South America station. In 1824, Austin joined the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1824-1825 (leader William Edward Parry), as first lieutenant in HMS Fury under Captain Henry Hoppner.

Austin was appointed to another scientific exploring expedition in 1827, bound for the Caribbean and Antarctic, serving as first lieutenant in the surveying vessel, Chanticleer, before succeeding to the acting command in 1831 after Captain Henry Foster was drowned. Promoted commander on his return in 1831, he commanded in European waters, later undertaking research on the use of steam vessels in the Navy.

In 1838, he advanced to the rank of captain and was appointed to the steam vessel Cyclops, participating in the Syrian War, during which he assisted in the capture of Sidon. He was involved in further work connected with steamers until he took charge of Woolwich dockyard in 1849.

In 1850, Austin was appointed leader of the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851, serving as captain of HMS Resolute, sent by the Admiralty to search for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition by way of Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. During the expedition, Erasmus Ommanney discovered the first evidence that Franklin had in fact reached the Canadian Arctic. The expedition also conducted extensive coastal surveys and observations of topography, geology, fauna and meteorology.

In 1854, Austin was appointed captain superintendent of Deptford dockyard, later taking up an appointment as rear-admiral superintendent of Malta dockyard in 1863. Retiring with the rank of vice-admiral in 1864, he was knighted in March 1865. He died on 16 November 1865 in London.


The collection is split into to two sub-fonds comprising of expedition material and correspondence respectively

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 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 'Austin, Sir Horatio Thomas' by Clive Holland in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 9, edited by Francess G Halpenny, University of Toronto Press, Toronto (1976) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08) and United Service Magazine and Naval Military Journal part 3 p606 (1865) SPRI Library Shelf Pam 92[Austin, Sir Horatio Thomas]

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, portraits and other illustrative material in the Picture Library, which includes images of Austin. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.