Horatio Thomas Austin was born in 1801 in England, the son of an official in the Chatham dockyard. In 1813, he joined the Navy under the patronage of Captain Sir Thomas Hardy, soon afterwards serving in Ramillies during the American War of 1812-1814. For the next nine years, he served as midshipman off the coast of Africa, in the English Channel and on the South America station. In 1824, Austin joined the British Naval Northwest Passage Expedition, 1824-1825 (leader William Edward Parry), as first lieutenant in HMS Fury under Captain Henry Hoppner.
Austin was appointed to another scientific exploring expedition in 1827, bound for the Caribbean and Antarctic, serving as first lieutenant in the surveying vessel, Chanticleer, before succeeding to the acting command in 1831 after Captain Henry Foster was drowned. Promoted commander on his return in 1831, he commanded in European waters, later undertaking research on the use of steam vessels in the Navy.
In 1838, he advanced to the rank of captain and was appointed to the steam vessel Cyclops, participating in the Syrian War, during which he assisted in the capture of Sidon. He was involved in further work connected with steamers until he took charge of Woolwich dockyard in 1849.
In 1850, Austin was appointed leader of the British Naval Franklin Search Expedition, 1850-1851, serving as captain of HMS Resolute, sent by the Admiralty to search for Sir John Franklin's missing Northwest Passage expedition by way of Baffin Bay and Lancaster Sound. During the expedition, Erasmus Ommanney discovered the first evidence that Franklin had in fact reached the Canadian Arctic. The expedition also conducted extensive coastal surveys and observations of topography, geology, fauna and meteorology.
In 1854, Austin was appointed captain superintendent of Deptford dockyard, later taking up an appointment as rear-admiral superintendent of Malta dockyard in 1863. Retiring with the rank of vice-admiral in 1864, he was knighted in March 1865. He died on 16 November 1865 in London.
From the guide to the Sir Horatio Austin collection, 1850-1851, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)