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Guide to the Papers of Edward Belcher, 1860Stefansson Mss-245

Full Finding Aid


Guide to the Papers of Edward Belcher, 1860

Call Number:

Stefansson Mss-245

Collection Dates:


Size of Collection:

1 notebook (.10 linear ft.) ;10 cm.


The Edward Belcher Collection contains one notebook used on a trip to Iceland in 1860. Of note are sketches of landforms, churches and architectural detailing.

Access to Collection:


Use & Access

The materials represented in this guide may be accessed through the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College. Rauner Library is located in Webster Hall. The materials must be used on-site and may not leave Rauner Library.

Rauner Special Collections Library is open to the public and in most cases no appointment is necessary. The exception is in the case of materials stored off site for which there may be a delay of up to 48 hours in retrieval. Please consult the Access to Collection statement below or contact Rauner Reference.

Access to Collection


Publication & Use

Permission from Dartmouth College required for publication or reproduction.

Introduction to the Collection

Contains one pocket notebook entitled "Voyage to Iceland 1860", 81 manuscript pages, details a voyage from Plymouth to Iceland in 1860. It mainly includes artist sketches of Iceland harbors and landscapes, architectural plans/notes, with observations on the ornithology, geology and geography of Iceland as well as course plotting. Written in the hand of Sir Edward Belcher.


Sir Edward Belcher (27 February 1799- March 18, 1877) was a British naval officer and explorer. Belcher was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia and entered the Royal Navy in 1812. In 1825 he accomplished Frederick William Beechey's expedition to the Pacific and Bering Strait, as a surveyor. He subsequently commanded a surveying ship on the North and West coasts of Africa and in the British seas, and in 1836 took up the work that Beechey left unfinished on the Pacific coast of South America. This was on board the bomb vessel HMS Sulphur, which was ordered to return to England in 1839 by the Trans-Pacific route. Belcher made various observations at a number of islands that he visited, was delayed by being dispatched to take part in the war in China in 1840-1841, and reached home in 1842.

In 1841 then Commander Belcher landed on Hong Kong Island and made the first British survey of Hong Kong harbor. He is commemorated in Hong Kong through a Belcher Street in Kennedy Town and the Belcher's, a development of gigantic flats.

In 1843 he was knighted, and was now engaged on the HMS Samarang, in surveying work in the East Indies, the Philippines and other places, until 1847.

In 1852 he was given command of the government Arctic expedition in search of Sir John Franklin. This was unsuccessful; Belcher's inability to render himself popular with his subordinates was peculiarly unfortunate in an Arctic voyage, and he was not wholly suited to command vessels among ice. Four of the five ships were abandoned in pack ice, for which Belcher was court-marshaled but acquitted. An American whaler later recovered one of the ships, HMS Resolute, intact.

This was Belcher's last active service, but he became K.C.B. in 1867 and an admiral in 1872.

He published a "Treatise on Nautical Surveying" (1835), "Narrative of a Voyage round the World performed in H.M.S. Sulphur, 1836-1842" (1843), "Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Samarang during 1843-1846" (1848; the Zoology of the Voyage was separately dealt with by some of his colleagues, 1850), and "The Last of the Arctic Voyages" (1855); besides minor works, including a novel, "Horatio Howard Brenton" (1856), a story of the navy.

Little is documented of his work in the years after his court-material. It appears that during the period between 1859 and 1865 he corresponded regularly with John Philippart, who was probably his editor and publisher, as well as Alexander Brymer who was an advisor to Governor Parr of Nova Scotia. He was acquainted with Dr. John Rae who also explored the Arctic Regions with some frequency. In fact their trips to discover the fate of Dr. Franklins expedition overlapped. Dr. John Rae retired from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1856 at the age of 43. But his exploring days were far from over. When the Atlantic telegraph cable failed, a route was suggested through the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland to North America. Rae was called upon to explore the landward side of this route. It is entirely possible that Admiral Sir Edward Belcher accompanied him on that voyage.

Belcher was an accomplished artist, executing his rough sketches and maps with perspective and detail. He is listed in at least two books as an accomplished maritime artist- including the "Artists Blue Book" and John Frazier Henrys-"Early Maritime Artists of the Pacific Northwest Coast 1741-1841". Additionally, reference can be found to Belcher in the "American Art Review" June 1995 edition- "A Noble Tradition" written by Carol Lowrey.

Box & Folder List

Box: 1, Dates: 1860

Includes 1 Notebook: Sketch: Bayerd Cathedral, June 24, 1860 Sketch: Plymouth Sketch: Panoramic Scene of Renshaion, July 12, 1860 Sketch: Ocean View of Stafford, July 15, 1860 Sketch: Isle of Eigg Sketch: Distant View of Skye Sketch: Loch Caiskin, July 20, 1860 Sketch: The Storm Rocks-Skye, July 22, 1860 Sketch: Unidentified and unfinished mountain vista, 2 pages Sketch: Cape Wrath, July 26, 1860 Sketch: Portice Harbor Sketch: Partial sketch of Iceland homestead Narrative: List-entitled Birds then in Iceland August 1860, identifies 27 birds Narrative: Geological notations including Thingvalla, lava, layers, etc... Narrative: Description of bird wingcover, tail, head, eyes, feathers, etc. Narrative: Description of 3 hotsprings together-page full closely written Narrative: Description of Little Geyser and other geological terminology such as "strokr" Narrative: Discussion of "While in Langerfjall..." stokr, with measurements and direction Narrative: Mention of Langerfjall, Icelandic homestead and small diagram of mountain chain Narrative: some financial accounting for milk, money lent, Hals, Terry, Reykir, Frathi, etc. Narrative: diary entries for daily activities from Friday to Friday August 31- includes observations along cliffs, smoking, sulphur, moss, and references to earlier studies of the area in the 1830's Narrative: more description diary entry for Sept.1, geological study Narrative: detailed description of a Gull- length, extent of wings, bill, throat, neck, head, etc. Narrative: Entitled Miltons Debts-next pages starts Thompsons debts Narrative: appears to be architectural description of large building with vault, nave Map: precise measurement map of area describing steam, geysers Map: precise measurement map of area describing Great Geyser Map: precise measurement map of area describing steam, perhaps geysers Map: precise birdseye map of Iceland with Geologic and geographic landmarks Map: another map identifying steaming holes, with other features such as "strokr" Map: Birdseye view of Langerfjell to glaciers with farm and plain with hay identified Map: Icelandic symbols or Runes Map: diagrams of architectural engineering including dimensions, examples of columns, angles, etc.

Box Contents

  • There is no folder listing for this box.

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