John Buchanan collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Buchanan including material regarding the British Naval Expedition to the Antarctic, 1872-1876 (leader George Strong Nares).

Administrative / Biographical History

John Young Buchanan was born in Glasgow on 20 February 1844. He was educated at Glasgow High School and the University of Glasgow where he graduated in Arts in 1863. He went on to study chemistry at the Universities of Marburg, Bonn and Leipzig before working in a laboratory in Paris in 1867. Shortly after his return to Scotland, Buchanan was appointed Assistant to the Chair of Chemistry in the University of Edinburgh and in 1870 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was selected to join the British Naval Voyage, 1872-1876 (Chief Scientist Sir Charles Wyville Thomson), as chemist and physicist on board HMS Challenger. He conducted much important oceanographic research with the responsibility for deep-sea and surface temperature and salinity measurements. After the expedition, the Royal Geographical Society published his map of the distribution of specific gravity of the surface water of the oceans, the first map of oceanic salinity ever compiled.

On his return to Edinburgh, he set up a private laboratory and continued to spend much of his time at sea in oceanographic exploration. Buchanan was interested in the revival of the study of physical geography and played a part in establishing the Ben Nevis Observatory, the Scottish Geographical Society and the Scottish Marine Station. The Royal Society of Edinburgh awarded him the Keith Prize for his work in chemical oceanography in 1887, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.

In 1889, Buchanan was offered the new lectureship in geography at Cambridge University, a post he held for four years. After his resignation, his oceanographic work continued and Buchanan travelled abroad, frequently visiting Europe and South America, and as a guest of Prince Albert of Monaco on many cruises in the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and to Spitsbergen. Distressed by the outbreak of the First World War, he left England to live in Cuba and America. On his return to England, his health deteriorated and he did little further scientific work. He died on 16 October 1925.

Published work, Report on the scientific results of the exploring voyage of HMS Challenger, 1873-1876, under the command of Captain George Strong Nares, RN, FRS, and the late Captain Frank Tourle Thomson, RN volume I, parts 1 and 2, volume II, Narrative of the cruise by Thomas H Tizard, Henry Nottidge Moseley, John Young Buchanan and John Murray, Her Majesty's Stationery Office London (1885) SPRI Library Shelf (7) 91(08)


The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by recipient.

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 Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, (1926) session 1924-1925, volume 45 part 4 p364-367 and The Geographical Magazine (September 1974) volume 44 number 12 p858-862 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.