Biscoe, John

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Epithet: Captain, RN

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001439.0x00030e

John Biscoe was born on 28 June 1794 in Middlesex, England. In March 1812, he volunteered for the Royal Navy, serving off North America during the war with the United States, 1812-1814. Between 1813 and 1815, he was promoted to midshipman and quartermaster, and at the time of his discharge in 1815, he had advanced to acting master.

Little is known about his employment between 1815 to 1830, the year when Messrs. Enderby, a respected whaling firm in London, proposed an Antarctic sealing voyage and appointed Biscoe master of the brig Tula . The British Expedition, 1830-1833, left London, in company with the smaller cutter Lively (Captain Magnus Smith, later Captain George Avery). On 24 February 1831, in latitudes below 66°South, Biscoe discovered Enderby Land, sighting bare mountain tops showing through the ice sheet. He remained off the coast for a month, attempting to make a fuller chart, at some cost to the health of the crew and himself. The expedition sailed northeastwardly, reaching Hobart in May 1831 after severe problems with pack ice and scurvy, the latter leading to two deaths among the crew. Both vessels wintered in Australia.

In a second season, Biscoe again sailed south. On 15 February 1832, he discovered Adelaide Island and, continuing northeastwardly, charted the Biscoe Islands. On 21 February 1832, he discovered and annexed land for King William IV, later calling it Graham Land. (This coast was in fact the southern extension of Edward Bransfield's Trinity Land and Palmer's Land, all part of Antarctic Peninsula). On his return in 1833, he was awarded the Royal Premium of the Royal Geographical Society for his discoveries and seamanship.

In 1833, Messrs. Enderby commissioned Biscoe for a similar voyage of exploration in two more vessels, Hopefull and Rose . Perhaps because of ill health, Biscoe eventually withdrew from this venture and decided to return to seafaring in warmer latitudes. Between 1834 and 1837, he was in the West Indies trade, and in 1837, sailed from London for Hobart, commanding the Superb . There, he became master of the brig, Lady Emma commanding her on the New South Wales sealing voyage (from Port Jackson, Sydney), 1839-1840, visiting the Chatham Islands, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island. Between 1840 and 1841, Biscoe was master of various passenger and cargo vessels sailing between Hobart, Sydney and Port Phillip, but ill health brought his career to an end. Biscoe died in 1843, during a voyage bringing his family back to England.

Published work, From the Journal of a voyage towards the South Pole on board the brig Tula, under the command of John Biscoe, with the cutter Lively in company by John Biscoe, edited by George Murray, Royal Geographical Society London (1901) SPRI Library Shelf (7)

From the guide to the John Biscoe collection, 1830-1893, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)

Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Biscoe John 1794-1843 person
associatedWith British Expedition Antarctic regions 1830-1833 corporateBody
associatedWith Great Britain. Parliament. corporateBody
associatedWith Lively (Cutter) corporateBody
associatedWith Marlborough, John Churchill, Duke of, 1650-1722. person
associatedWith Maunsell family. family
associatedWith Tula (Brig) corporateBody
associatedWith United States Sanitary Commission corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Antarctica Discovery and exploration
South Seas, South Seas


Birth 1794-06-28

Death 1843



Ark ID: w6dr6zpz

SNAC ID: 75248317