Sir George Richards collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher) and correspondence by Richards

Administrative / Biographical History

George Henry Richards was born ca. 1819 in Cornwall. In 1832, he entered the Royal Navy, serving first in the West Indies and then on a survey expedition to the Pacific in HMS Sulphur under Frederick William Beechey, who was later replaced by Edward Belcher. While on the Pacific Station, Richards participated in the First China War, returning to England in 1841 due to illness. Promoted lieutenant in 1842, he was assigned to the Navy's survey of the Falkland Islands, later advancing to the rank of commander in 1845 following hostilities with the Republic of Buenos Aires (Argentina). Between 1847 and 1851, he served as second captain in a survey of the coasts of New Zealand.

In 1852, Richards was appointed commander of HMS Assistance on the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1852-1854 (leader Sir Edward Belcher), sent by the Admiralty to search for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition in the regions of Wellington Channel and Melville Island. Between April and July 1853, Richards led a sledge party west, discovering the north coasts of Sherard Osborn, Helena and Cameron islands before reaching the east coast of Sabine Peninsula, Melville Island. Continuing around the north and west coasts of the peninsula, he crossed Melville Island to visit HMS Resolute and HMS Intrepid at Dealy Island. On the return journey, he travelled along the east coast of Melville Island, around the north coast of Cameron Island and through the strait between Bathurst Island and Helena and Sherard Osborn islands. On his return to England the following year, Richards was promoted captain.

In 1856, Richards took command of the survey vessel HMS Plumper with instructions to conduct a detailed survey of the waters between Vancouver Island and the American mainland, to help determine the location of the international boundary through the San Juan Islands. Between 1860 and 1862, Richards conducted a survey of the coasts of Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland of British Columbia in the replacement vessel HMS Hecate. His surveys formed the basis for the The Vancouver Island Pilot published in two editions in 1861 and 1863 by the Hydrographic Office.

On his return to England in 1864, Richards was appointed Hydrographer of the Navy, advancing to the rank of rear admiral in 1870. Retiring in 1874, Richards became managing director of the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, which, under his direction, laid thousands of miles of submarine telegraph cables. He continued to take an active interest in Arctic exploration, serving on an Admiralty committee, which advised on preparations for the British Arctic expedition, 1875-1876 (leader George Strong Nares). A fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, he was knighted in 1877, attaining the rank of admiral in 1884. He died on 14 November 1896 at Bath.


The collection is split into 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 'Richards, Sir George Henry' by Helen B Akrigg in Dictionary of Canadian Biography volume 12 edited by Francess G Halpenny, University of Toronto Press Toronto (1990) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1966-] and 'Vice-admiral Sir George H Richards' by L S Dawson in Memoirs of Hydrography Part II Cornmarket Press London (1969) SPRI Library Shelf 92(08)[pub.1969]

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.

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Further accessions possible