The Book List: What titles did Captain Scott take to the Antarctic?

Every Wednesday Alex Johnson delves into a unique collection of titles

Alex Johnson
Monday 11 June 2018 22:42
The expedition team packed plenty of weighty tomes, as well as food and warm clothes for the 1901-04 voyage
The expedition team packed plenty of weighty tomes, as well as food and warm clothes for the 1901-04 voyage

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
Castaway on the Auckland Isles by Thomas Musgrave
First Crossing of Greenland by Fridtjof Nansen
Voyage to the Polar Seas: ‘Alert’ and ‘Discovery’ by Sir GS Nares
North-West Passage (Third Voyage) by WE Parry
Austrian Arctic Voyage by Julius Payer
Voyage to the Southern Seas by Sir James C Ross
North Georgia Gazette: ‘Hecla’ and ‘Griper’ Expedition by Captain Edward Sabine
Arctic Regions by W Scoresby
Under the Rays of Aurora Borealis by Sophus Tromholt

Getting organised: Robert Falcon Scott’s onboard collection warranted its own catalogue (Getty)

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.

‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ was one of the light reads in the mess

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 The list on this page is of the travel section of the polar books (Arctic and Antarctic) in the National Antarctic Expedition Library.

Captain Scott (centre) and Dr Edward Adrian Wilson celebrate Christmas in 1903 (Getty)

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 Erebus and Terror 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 the following:

The Northwest Passage by Roald Amundsen
Pros and Cons: A Newspaper Reader’s and Debater’s Guide to the Leading Controversies of the Day by JB Askew
Perch of the Devil by Gertrude Atherton
The Barrier by Rex Beach
Thou Fool by JJ Bell
Cassell’s Book of Quotations by W Gurney Benham
The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett
Oddsfish by Robert Hugh Benson
The Brassbounder by David Bone
The Reader’s Handbook of Famous Names in Fiction, Allusions, References, Proverbs, Plots, Stories, and Poems by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer
Journal of HMS Enterprise by Sir Richard Collinson
Almayer’s Folly by Joseph Conrad
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Five Years of My Life by Alfred Dreyfuss
The Woman’s View by Herbert Flowerdew
Potash and Perlmutter by Montague Glass
Three Years of Arctic Service by Adolphus Greely
Seven Short Plays by Lady Gregory
Pip: A Romance of Youth by Ian Hey
Raffles by EW Hornung
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
The Case of Miss Elliott by Emmuska Orczy
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
Various dictionaries

‘A Book of Book Lists’ by Alex Johnson, £7.99, British Library Publishing

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