Sir Joseph Nias collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Nias regarding the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1821-1823 (leader William Edward Parry) and certificates of Naval service for Nias.

Administrative / Biographical History

Joseph Nias was born on 2 April 1793 in London. He entered the Navy in 1807, serving in the Mediterranean, North Sea and Channel Stations during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1818, he was appointed midshipman in HMS Alexander under William Edward Parry on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition (leader John Ross), sent in company with HMS Isabella to search for a Northwest Passage by way of Baffin Bay.

Nias returned north with Parry in HMS Hecla on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1819-1820 (leader William Edward Parry), sent by the Admiralty to seek a passage through Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic. During this expedition, Parry successfully located the elusive entrance to the Northwest Passage in addition to navigating about halfway through the passage. After the expedition wintered at Winter Harbour on the south coast of Melville Island in 1819, Nias accompanied Parry on his journey across Melville Island to the north coast in June 1820.

Promoted lieutenant in 1820, Nias served in HMS Fury on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1821-1823 (leader William Edward Parry), sent to search for a passage along the west coast of the unexplored Foxe Basin. After two attempts to sail through Fury and Hecla Strait were hindered by the ice, Parry was forced to return to England in 1823.

In 1826, Nias was appointed first lieutenant in HMS Asia, serving at the Battle of Navarino in 1827, for which he was promoted commander later in the same year. Advancing to the rank of captain in 1835, he was given the command of HMS Herald commissioned for the East India Station and was actively employed in the operations leading to the capture of Canton during the first China War. Returning to England in 1843, he spent a further period at sea before receiving shore appointments at Devonport and Plymouth. Promoted rear admiral in 1857, he retired as admiral in 1867, the year in which he was knighted. He died in December 1879 in London.


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 Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) ISBN number 0824076486 and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Dictionary of National Biography volume 40, Smith Elder & Co. London (1894) and Captain Joseph Nias and the Treaty of Waitangi, a vindication by T D H Hall, L T Watkins Ltd. Wellington (1938) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Nias, J.]

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