The Royal Society collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence regarding the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott) which was supported by the Royal Society amongst others.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Royal Society was founded on 28 November 1660 by twelve men who wished to establish 'a College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning'. Although initially unnamed, the Society was referred to as The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge in a Royal Charter of 1663. The Society, which included the Gresham Professor of Astronomy, Christopher Wren, met weekly to discuss what would now be called scientific topics and witness experiments, appointing Robert Hooke as the first Curator of Experiments.

In 1665, the Society published its first journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, which is now the oldest scientific journal in continuous publication. From the beginning, fellows of the Society were elected, although most were not professional scientists, and in 1847, the Society decided that fellows would be elected solely on the merit of their scientific work. Since 1731, the Society has rewarded outstanding scientific achievement through its medals and prizes, and currently makes seventeen awards each year. In 1850, a government grant system was introduced while still allowing the Society to maintain its autonomy.

The Society has played an important role in voyages of exploration to the Southern Ocean and Antarctic, supporting the scientific programmes of many expeditions, including the British naval expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross) and the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott). During the International Geophysical Year, a Royal Society station was established in Antarctica at Halley Bay.

Published work, Polar regions, Scientific research in Antarctica A Royal Society discussion organized by Sir Vivian Fuchs, F.R.S. and R.M. Laws, Royal Society London (1977) SPRI Library Shelf (7), The Royal Society International Geophysical Year Antarctic Expedition Halley Bay Coats Land, Falkland Island Dependencies 1955-1959 edited by (Sir) David Brunt, 4 Volumes Royal Society London (1960-1964) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1955-1959 Royal Society], 'The Royal Society and the Antarctic' by Gordon Elliott Fogg in Notes and Records of the Royal Society (2000) volume 54 number 1 p85-98 SPRI Library Shelf Pam (7)91(091)


The correspondence 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 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 and the Royal Society

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.