John Simpson papers, 1825-1875 and undated
Using These Materials
- Collection is open for research.
- Simpson, John, 1819-1859
- Irish-born surgeon in the British Navy who participated in several Arctic voyages. The papers of John Simpson date from 1825 to 1875 and span his entire career as a naval surgeon aboard the English vessels Blonde, Plover and Superior. The collection is arranged into the following series: Accounts of Voyages, Correspondence, Legal Papers, Medical Files, Native Cultures, Meterology Files, Additional Papers, Other Printed Material, and Poetry, Plays, and Amusements. Simpson's journals from the Arctic voyages on the HMS Plover and Superior on which he served as surgeon or assistant surgeon provide detailed accounts of the voyages, including life on board and the medical problems afflicting the crew and passengers. The collection includes detailed meteorological observations aboard the Plover. There are also unique and valuable materials on native cultures in present-day Alaska, Canada, and the Arctic which include extensive Simpson's notes on the local languages, a number of sketches of Inuit people and culture, hand-drawn maps, and drawings of geographical features. Also included in the collection are a variety of legal papers; correspondence; papers and items related to poetry, plays, and amusements aboard the Plover; and miscellaneous other papers and printed materials. A number of the volumes, flyers, and broadsides were printed on board ship. There are additional materials that briefly describe voyages to Guyana, and documents relating to Simpson's service aboard other ships.
5.1 Linear Feet
Approximately 1000 Items
- Material in English
- Collection ID:
- Scope and Content:
The papers of John Simpson date from 1825 to 1875 and span his entire career as a naval surgeon aboard the English vessels Blonde, Plover and Superior. The collection is arranged into the following series: Accounts of Voyages, Correspondence, Legal Papers, Medical Files, Native Cultures, Meterology Files, Additional Papers, Other Printed Material, and Poetry, Plays, and Amusements. Simpson's journals from the Arctic voyages on the HMS Plover and off the coast of West Africa on the Superior provide detailed, vivid accounts of the voyages, including life on board and the medical problems afflicting the crew and passengers, including scurvy, fevers, gonorrhea, and depression. Journals from the HMS Plover also chronicle the provisions that were stockpiled on board and the daily rations provided to the officers and crew. The collection includes detailed meteorological observations aboard the Plover such as temperature and barometrical readings and descriptions of wind and weather conditions.
Simpson was also a keen observer of native cultures in present-day Alaska, Canada, and the Arctic; his unique and valuable materials on Inuit lands and society include extensive notes on the local languages, a number of sketches of Inuit people and culture, hand-drawn maps, and drawings of geographical features.
He also described in detail his experiences off the coast of West Africa, where he served as surgeon on board the Superior, one of the many British Royal Navy ships that transported African "emigrants," often freed from illegal slave ships, to British colonies; during Simpson's service the Superior operated between Sierra Leone and Guyana. There are briefer references in correspondence and possibly in his journals to stays in Malta, Panama, and other locales such as San Francisco (1842).
Also included in the collection are a variety of legal papers; correspondence; papers and items related to poetry, plays, and amusements aboard the Plover; and miscellaneous other papers and printed materials, some of which relate to Simpson's education and career. A number of the volumes, flyers, and broadsides were hand-printed on board ship. There may be references in the papers to Simpson's service on the Blonde, which traveled to the coast of China in 1842, but the journals seem to start with his service on the emigration ship Superior, following the Blonde.
- Biographical / Historical:
John Simpson (1819-1859) was born in Larne, in county Antrim, Ireland, on December 1st, 1819. He began his medical training at the University of Glasgow in 1835, and then completed it over the next four years primarily at the universities of Edinburgh and Dublin, the Richmond Hospital School in Dublin (by 1850 known as the Carmichael School), and the Edinburgh School. At the 1841 census he was an Assistant Surgeon at the Royal Haslar Hospital, Hampshire. Simpson entered the naval service as a surgeon. From his own account (a letter dated 1844), he served first on the HMS Queen (Mar. 23-June 18, 1841); the HMS Cornwallis (June 19, 1841-Jan. 20, 1842); then as an assistant surgeon on voyages with the HMS Blonde (Jan. 21, 1842-Mar. 23, 1843), during which he "landed at the capture of Chapoo and Woosung"; the emigration ship Superior (May 30-Dec. 21, 1843), which transported "liberated" Africans to colonies such as Guyana; the HM cutter Seaflower (1845); and the HM surveying vessel Bonetta (1845-1847). During 1844 he served at the Naval Hospital in Plymouth. Simpson was later an officer on the "discovery ship" HMS Plover, initiating his service sometime around 1847, while the Plover participated in the search for Sir John Franklin (1847-1855). During that time the Plover spent several years stationed in the Behring Strait as a supply vessel, including a three-year stint from 1852-1855. Simpson's studies of Inuit society and command of Inuit languages made him an important liaison between the English and the local populations. While stationed in the Artic, Simpson conducted anthropological studies of Inuit culture, recorded detailed meteorological observations of the Arctic climate, and printed playbills and newsletters on a shipboard printing press. After his journeys Simpson served on the receiving ship Ceylon at Malta (1855). Simpson died on August 29, 1859 while serving at Haslar Hospital in Southampton, England. [Sources include the New Navy List, 1855.]
- Acquisition Information:
- The John Simpson Papers were purchased by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a part of the Dalton Collection. They were purchased from Emerald Isle Books in 1982.
- Processing information:
Processed by L. Colby Bogie, July 2010
Encoded by L. Colby Bogie and Paula Jeannet, July 2010
Accession is described in this finding aid.
- Physical Location:
- For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Related Material:
Stam, David H.. Books on Ice: British and American Literature of Polar Exploration. New York: Grolier Club, 2005.
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
Arctic medicine -- History -- 19th century
Eskimo languages -- Glossaries, vocabularies, etc. -- Polyglot
Eskimos -- Arctic regions -- Social life and customs
Indians of North America -- Arctic regions
Inuit -- Social life and customs
Inuit language -- Glossaries, vocabularies, etc.
Medicine, Naval -- Great Britain -- History -- 19th century
Meteorology -- Arctic regions -- Observations -- 19th century
Naval hygiene -- 19th century
Ship presses -- 19th century
Ship physicians -- Personal narratives
Surgery, Naval -- 19th century
Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Medical care
Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Surgeons
Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Sea life
Franklin, John, Sir, 1786-1847
Arctic regions -- Climate -- Observations
Alaska -- Discovery and exploration -- British
Sierra Leone -- Emigration and immigration
Canada -- Discovery and exploration -- British
Guyana -- Emigration and immigration
Arctic regions -- History, Naval -- 19th century
Barrow, Point (Alaska) -- Discovery and exploration -- British
Arctic regions -- Description and travel
Arctic regions -- Discovery and exploration -- British
Using These Materials
Collection is open for research.
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The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
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- PREFERRED CITATION:
[Identification of item], John Simpson Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University