Famous Antarctic explorers’ libraries

10 Jul 2018

When you are planning a major expedition, the first “must-have” to include on your packing list is naturally thousands of books. On Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery expedition of 1901-04, as well as plenty of food and warm clothes, he also put together what became the impressive National Antarctic Expedition Library. This onboard collection even warranted its own catalogue, a 34-page pamphlet divided into sections including “Biographical”, “Essays and Philosophical”, “Historical”, “Travel”, “Fiction”, “Poetical”, “Magazines”, “Reference”, “Scientific” and “Expeditions”.

Each section was arranged alphabetically by author and includes the precise location of each book – in Scott’s own cabin, the officers’ cabins, the ward room mess cabin for commissioned officers, and the seamen’s mess deck. So we can tell that Scott kept hold of all the Sir Walter Scotts and a good chunk of the travel and maritime books. Below you can see some of them:

Cook’s Voyages of Discovery by John Barrow

Voyages of Foxe and James by Miller Christy

First Crossing of Spitzbergen by Sir Martin Conway

With Ski and Sledge over Arctic Glaciers by Sir Martin Conway

Narrative of Voyage to South Seas by Charles M Goodridge

Danish Arctic Expeditions by CCA Gosch

Handbook of Arctic Discoveries by AW Greely

Three Years of Arctic Service by AW Greely

Through Arctic Lapland by Cutliffe Hyne

German Arctic Expedition by Captain Karl Koldewey

Fate of Franklin, and his Discoveries by FL McClintock

Arctic Voyage of HMS Resolute by GF McDougall

Polar Reconnaissance by Captain AH Markham

Northward Ho! By Captain AH Markham

Franklin’s Footsteps by Sir Clements R Markham

Voyages of William Baffin by Sir Clements R Markham

Naturalist’s Notes on HMS Challenger by HN Moseley

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were on the mess deck, as were the popular hunting novels of Major George John Whyte-Melville, and the 35 volumes of Punch magazine. The Dickens – including A Christmas Carol – were in the ward room, and Lieutentant Michael Barne had Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat in his own quarters. Expedition members had their own personal bibles.

As only around 20 were printed, the catalogue is itself a rarity and an expensive buy when it does come up for auction occasionally, but happily the Antarctic Circle group of scholars has put a copy up for public viewing online at antarctic-circle.org/discoverylibrary.pdf. The list on this page is of the travel section of the polar books (Arctic and Antarctic) in the National Antarctic Expedition Library.

Of course Scott was not the only explorer who could have made good use of an e-reader’s capabilities. While Martin Frobisher probably had only about a dozen books on his first Arctic voyage in 1576, Sir John Franklin’s ships 300 years later had a combined library of around 3,000. Sir Ernest Shackleton also made room en route to Antarctica on his ship Endurance for plenty of books. A photo taken in March 1915 by photographer Frank Hurley has been analysed by the Royal Geographical Society and digitalisation experts to reveal that his own cabin bookshelf contained among many others the following:

United States Grinnell Expedition by Dr Elisha Kane

The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne by William J Locke

Round the Horn Before the Mast by A Basil Lubbock

The Threshold of the Unknown Region by Clements Markham

The Witness for the Defence by AEW Mason

The Voyage of the Fox in Arctic Seas by Francis McClintock

Voyage to the Polar Sea by George Nares

Manual of English Grammar and Composition by John Nesfield

Voyage of the Vega by Baron Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiold

World’s End by Amelie Rives

The Rescue of Greely by Commander Winfield Scott Schley

Plays: Pleasant and Unpleasant by George Bernard Shaw

Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Monsieur de Rochefort by H De Vere Stacpoole

The Message of Fate by Louis Tracy

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Whitaker’s Almanack



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