Walter How collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by How and papers relating to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition [Weddell Sea Party], 1914-1916 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton) the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, 1921-1922 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), membership of the Antarctic club and other documents.

Administrative / Biographical History

Walter Ernest How was born in Bermondsey, London, on 25 December 1884. He was educated in Hemel Hempstead and went to sea at the age of twelve. After much experience at sea off the Labrador coast, he joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition [Weddell Sea Party], 1914-1916 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton) as able seaman in Endurance. After the ship was crushed in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, he and his companions escaped in boats to Elephant Island. A party of six led by Shackleton made the epic journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia to seek help from the Stromness whaling station and in August 1916, How and the remaining members of the expedition were rescued from Elephant Island.

How made many sketches of the expedition, including some of the Endurance and the ships involved with the rescue of the Elephant Island party. He received the Polar Medal for his part in the expedition.

During the First World War, he served as able seaman in the Merchant Navy, and was blinded in one eye when his ship hit a German mine. After the war ended, he took on a variety of jobs, including painting and decorating, and continued sketching and painting in oils. He volunteered for the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, 1921-1922 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), but had to withdraw due to the death of his father.

Around 1929 he commanded a yacht, The Macheeb, owned by the famous Beecham family, which cruised all around the Scottish Islands. In 1930, he became caretaker of the vessel Friendship, which was moored at London's Victoria Embankment near Hungerford Bridge. He held this post until the outbreak of the Second World War, when he went to work for the Tottenham Gas Company, a position he held until he retirement at the age of 70. He died in London on 5 August 1972.


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of correspondence and papers 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 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 Obituary by Alfred Stephenson in The Polar Record (January 1973) volume 16, number 103, p617-618 and Antarctic Wellington, (December 1973) volume 6 number 12 p444-445 and Visit and learn

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.

Related Material

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library, some of which covers the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.