Sir John Herschel collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of correspondence by Herschel to John Franklin on various topics both polar and non polar.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Frederick William Herschel was born in Slough, England on 7 March 1792, the son of the renowned astronomer, William Herschel. He studied at St. John's College, Cambridge and on graduation in 1813, was elected to fellowships at St. John's and the Royal Society of London. The following year he entered the legal profession as a student but gave up his training after eighteen months. He began to undertake work in chemistry and astronomy, taking an active part in the foundation of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1820. He was elected President of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1827, and was knighted in 1831. Having failed narrowly to be elected President of the Royal Society, Herschel then decided to travel with his family to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in 1833, where a Royal Observatory had been established. Among the many important scientific advances made by Herschel in South Africa were his observations of Halley's Comet on its return in 1835. In 1838, Herschel returned to England where the promotion of a scheme for widespread magnetic observations mainly devolved upon him. He drew up a memorial to government on the subject, composed the instructions for the British Naval Expedition, 1839-1843 (leader James Clark Ross), and reported progress year after year at successive meetings of the British Association. In the following years, he became interested in photography, publishing a number of papers on the subject from 1839 to 1842 and producing the first example of a photograph on glass in 1843. He became rector of Marischal College in Aberdeen in 1842 and served as president of the British Association in Cambridge in 1845. His observations in South Africa were finally published in 1847 in a large quarto volume entitled Results of Astronomical Observations made during the years 1834-1838 at the Cape of Good Hope. He received his second Copley Medal from the Royal Society for this work. In 1850, he accepted the post of Master of the Mint, with the responsibility for its reorganization. Resigning in 1855, he retired to his home, Collingwood, in Hawkhurst, Kent where he died on 11 May 1871.


The correspondence is arranged chronologically.

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 Dictionary of National Biography ed by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, volume 26, Smith, Elder & Co. London (1891) and The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive 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.

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Further accessions possible.