Charles Hall collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material relating to the United States Franklin Search Expedition, 1864-1869 (led by Hall) and correspondence by Hall

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Francis Hall was born in 1821 in the state of Vermont, USA. In 1849, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he established a small seal-engraving business and, in the late 1850s, two small newspapers, the Cincinnati Occasional and the Daily Press. Developing a keen interest in the Arctic, he decided to mount an expedition to search for survivors of Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition of 1845-1848. In 1860, Hall travelled to the east coast of the United States where he met the merchant and philanthropist, Henry Grinnell, who introduced him to whaling firms in Connecticut, one of which offered Hall a free passage to Baffin Island. In 1860, Hall sailed to the Arctic for the first time on the US Whaling and Franklin Search Expedition, 1860-1862, planning to visit King William Island to find any relics of Franklin's expedition and to search the adjacent coast for possible survivors. During the 1860 winter, Hall befriended the English-speaking Eskimo couple, Ebierbing (Joe) and Tookoolito (Hannah), who became his companions for the rest of the expedition and accompanied him on subsequent expeditions. While making an exploratory boat journey between August and September 1861, Hall discovered that Frobisher Bay was not a strait as had previously been assumed, and found relics of Sir Martin Frobisher's 16th-century expedition.

Determined to raise funds for a second expedition, Hall conducted a lecture tour on his return to the United States and published an account of his first expedition, insisting that there might be survivors of the Franklin expedition living in the area of King William Island. In 1864, he led the U.S. Franklin Search Expedition, 1864-1869, sponsored by public subscription in a further attempt to search for relics of Franklin's expedition on King William Island. Setting out from New London, Hall decided to make his base at Repulse Bay, northwest Hudson Bay, where he would live and work among the Eskimos. After attempting unsuccessfully to persuade the Eskimos of that region to accompany him to King William Island, he hired some whalers, but this experiment ended in failure when he shot and killed one for threatening mutiny. Finally in March 1869, he set out with a party of Eskimos for King William Island, where he found relics and skeletal remains of the Franklin party, thus dispelling any belief that survivors might still be in the region. However, the greatest achievement of this expedition was to demonstrate that explorers could live successfully among the Eskimos and adopt their methods of travel and survival, greatly influencing a later generation of polar explorers.

On his return, Hall persuaded the U.S. government to sponsor his attempt to reach the North Pole by way of Smith Sound and was given the command of the US North Polar Expedition, 1871-1873. Sailing from New London in July 1871, in Polaris, under Sidney Budington, reached a farthest north of 82° 11 minutes before ice prevented further progress. Returning south, he found a winter harbour on the Greenland shore of Hall Basin, which he named 'Thank God Harbour.' In October 1871, Hall sledged north to 82° on the north shore of Newman Fjord. On his return to the ship, he became violently ill and died in mysterious circumstances on 8 November 1871. The cause of death was officially determined to be apoplexy but it now seems probable that he died of arsenic poisoning. After his death, the morale of the expedition deteriorated and little was accomplished.

Published work Life with the Esquimaux a narrative of Arctic experience in search of survivors of Sir John Franklin's expedition. By Captain Charles Francis Hall, Sampson Low, Son and Marston London (1865) SPRI Library Shelf (41)91(08)[1860-1862 Hall]


The collection is split into two sub-fonds comprising of expedition material and correspondence 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 Arctic, exploration and development c500 BC to 1915, an encyclopaedia by Clive Holland Garland Publishing, London (1994) and Exploring Polar Frontiers, a historical encyclopaedia by William Mills San Diego and Oxford, 2003 and Dictionary of Canadian Biography and 'Charles Francis Hall (1821-1871)' by Chauncey Loomis in Arctic volume 35 number 3 December 1982 p442-443

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, which includes images from Hall's expeditions. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.