Cornelius Sullivan collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material regarding the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1842 (leader James Clark Ross) to Antarctic waters.

Administrative / Biographical History

Cornelius J. Sullivan served on the British naval expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), as blacksmith on board HMS Erebus. The voyage was organized to conduct a series of magnetic observations in the southern hemisphere and to locate and reach the South Magnetic Pole if possible. The expedition, with Ross in HMS Erebus and Captain Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier commanding HMS Terror, left England in September. Establishing magnetic observatories in St. Helena, Cape Town, and Iles Kerguelen, and taking running observations en route, the two ships reached Hobart, Tasmania early in 1840. A geophysical observatory 'Rossbank' was established in Hobart with the co-operation of the Governor, Sir John Franklin. Later in the same year, the two vessels headed south into the Southern Ocean, crossing the Antarctic Circle on 1 January 1841 and were the first vessels to force a way through the pack ice of the Ross Sea. Ross discovered and roughly charted 900 kilometres of new coast in Victoria Land, which was claimed for Queen Victoria on Possession Island on 12 January and Franklin Island on 27 January 1841. Continuing south, he discovered Ross Island, with twin peaks that he named Erebus and Terror, and the huge ice shelf that also bears his name. He calculated the position of the South Magnetic Pole as 75.83°South, 154.13°East, but was unable to reach the Pole either by boat or by sledging. After wintering in Australia, the expedition returned to the Ross Sea in December 1841, then visited the South Shetland Islands, the Falkland Islands and proceeded into the South American sector of Antarctica. Sullivan wrote an account of the first season of the expedition, and in the second season kept a diary, dictated to him by James Savage, a seaman who had joined the expedition at Hobart.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Conditions Governing Access

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 Ross in the Antarctic, the voyages of James Clark Ross in Her Majesty's ships Erebus & Terror 1839-1843 by Maurice James Ross, Caedmon of Whitby (1982) SPRI Library Shelf (ƫ)91(08)[1839-1843 Ross] 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.


Further accessions possible.

Personal Names