Beechey, Frederick William, 1796-1856

Alternative names
Birth 1796-02-17
Death 1856-11-29

Biographical notes:

1806 joined the Royal Navy; 1806-1814 served in the Napoleonic Wars; 1814 appointed to the Tonnant, flagship of Sir Alexander Cochrane, commander-in-chief in North America; 1815 served in the boat operations on the lower Mississippi; 1815 lieutenant; 1818 appointed to the hired brig Trent, served on the Arctic expedition; 1819 appointed to the Hecla, served on a second voyage through the Arctic; 1821-1822 appointed to the survey ship, Adventure and participated in the survey of the north coast of Africa; 1822 commander; 1825 appointed to command the Blossom; 1827 captain; 1835-1836 appointed to command the Sulphur for the survey of the coast of South America; 1837-1847 appointed to survey the coast of Ireland; surveyed the River Severn to Worcester; 1850-1856 superintendent, the marine department of the Board of Trade; 1853 represented the hydrographer conference, Brussels; 1855-1856 president, the Royal Geographical Society; rear-admiral.

Epithet: naval officer, hydrographer and author

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000411.0x000366

Frederick William Beechey was born on 17 February 1796 in London, son of the well-known artist Sir William Beechey. In 1806, he entered the Navy, later participating in the attack on New Orleans in 1815, for which he was promoted lieutenant later in the same year. In 1818, he was appointed lieutenant in HMS Trent on the British Naval North Polar Expedition (leader David Buchan), organized by the Admiralty in an unsuccessful attempt to seek a passage from Svalbard by way of the North Pole to Bering Strait and the Pacific Ocean. Beechey wrote an account of the expedition in Voyage of discovery towards the North Pole (1843), in which his sketches of Arctic scenery were reproduced. In 1819, he was appointed lieutenant in HMS Hecla on the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1819-1820 (leader William Edward Parry), sent by the Admiralty to seek a Northwest Passage through Lancaster Sound in the Canadian Arctic. Beechey's sketches of the Arctic landscape were later published in Parry's personal narrative Journal of a voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage (1821).

Between 1821 and 1822, Beechey was attached to a survey of the north coast of Africa, an account of which he later published with his brother Henry William, a civilian member of the expedition. Promoted commander in 1822, he was appointed to lead the British Naval Exploring Expedition, 1825-1828, instructed by the Admiralty to await the arrival of the expeditions of Parry and Sir John Franklin, and to conduct exploratory and scientific work in the Pacific Ocean and Bering Strait. Setting sail from Spithead in HMS Blossom in May 1825, the expedition reached Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in June 1826 where Beechey learned that Parry's expedition had already returned home. The following month, the expedition proceeded to Chamisso Island in Alaska from where an advance party reached Point Barrow on 23 August, missing Franklin, who had come within 300 kilometres of Point Barrow, by only five days. After wintering in the Pacific, Beechey sailed north to the Bering Strait in the summer of 1827, but finding no trace of Franklin, returned to England by way of Cape Horn. Although the expedition was unsuccessful in obtaining any information about Franklin's progress, many islands in the Pacific were charted and a detailed survey was conducted of the northwest coast of Alaska from the north of Norton Sound to Point Barrow.

Promoted captain in 1827, Beechey was later appointed by the Admiralty to survey the coasts of South America and Ireland. From 1850, he was appointed by the Board of Trade to superintend and organize the Mercantile Marine. Promoted rear admiral in 1854, he was elected president of the Royal Geographical Society the following year, a post he held until his death on 29 November 1856 in London.

Published work Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beering's Strait to co-operate with the polar expeditions, performed in His Majesty's Ship Blossom, under the command of Captain F.W. Beechey ... in the years 1825-1826-1827-1828 by Frederick William Beechey, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London (1831) SPRI Library Special Collection (3)91(08)[1825-1828 Beechey], A voyage of discovery toward the North Pole, performed in His Majesty's ships Dorothea and Trent, under the command of Captain David Buchan, R.N., 1818... by Frederick William Beechey, Bentley London (1843) SPRI Library Shelf (32)91(08)[1818 Buchan]

From the guide to the Frederick William Beechey collection, 1831-1849, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


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  • Admirals--Biography
  • Explorers--Correspondence
  • Explorers--Biography


  • Explorers


  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Point Barrow, North America (as recorded)
  • Arctic regions Discovery and exploration (as recorded)