Guide to the John Simpson Papers, 1825-1875 and undated
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.
- Collection Number
- John Simpson papers
- 1825-1875 and undated
- Simpson, John, 1819-1859
- 5.1 Linear Feet, Approximately 1000 Items
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Material in English
- Accounts of Voyages Series, 1842-1854 and undated
- Correspondence Series, 1840 Dec. 31-1859 May 30 and undated
- Legal Papers Series, 1841-1859 and undated
- Medical Files Series, 1826-1859 and undated
- Native Cultures Series, 1843-1854 and undated
- Meteorology Files Series, 1848-1858 and undated
- Additional Papers Series, 1819 Sept. 30-1875 Jan. 29 and undated
- Other Printed Material, 1844 Nov.-1875 Jan. and undated
- Poetry, Plays, and Amusements Series, 1848 Sept. 16-1855 Nov. 13 and undated
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.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
Use & Permissions
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.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], John Simpson Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Detailed accounts of naval surgeon John Simpson's voyages (the one exception being Simpson's copy of Sir John Richardson's Arctic Searching Expedition). Formats include small bound manuscript journals, volumes with inserted sketches and other manuscript items, folios, and manuscript proofs. Simpson's experiences on the HMS Plover and the emigration transport Superior are given particularly detailed treatments. Arranged in chronological order.
Includes Simpson's highly detailed journal, plus additional journal entries, notes, charts, and sketches originally laid in between blank pages, describing his experiences on the HMS Blonde, which saw action in the Anglo-Chinese War during 1841-1842. Contains many references to other ships, to battles, and weather, and comments on his travels from England to his destination, including descriptions of a stay in Capetown. The journal then turns to his first service aboard the HMS Plover, undated, and contains similarly detailed entries on the voyage, which appears to be his first service on the Plover (circa 1848). The papers also include one sheet that refers to issues faced by the emigration transport Superior, which at that time operated off the West Coast of Africa, transporting Africans freed from illegal slave ships and other individuals from Sierra Leone to colonies such as Guyana. The Superior was one of many ships who performed this work during the period following the abolishment of the slave trade in the 1830s.
Includes manuscript correspondence relating to John Simpson's service aboard the emigration transport Superior and a paperbound printed volume, Papers Relative to Emigration from the West Coast of Africa to the West Indies, 1843. Many of the letters and papers address the transactions and logistical problems in picking up Africans from Sierra Leone (men, women, and many boys) and transporting them to estates in Guyana as indentured labor. He also comments on his surroundings when he is on land.
Contains a loosely-bound portfolio. Includes thermometer readings, sketches of Inuit villages and geographical features, hand-drawn maps, and a narrative account of the Plover's early arctic voyages.
A loosely-bound folio containing the handwritten proofs of The Flight of the Plover or North Pole Charivari, the newsletter that Simpson printed while aboard the Plover.
Notes from Simpson's travels on the HMS Plover in arctic regions.
Contains three volumes of Simpson's journals and notes. One volume contains extensive notes on Inuit language; another is entitled Journal of Journeys, 1849. The third volume is very small (4" x 2.75") and its back cover is labeled "Plover"; it contains journal entries, language notes, and calculations.
Bound, published volume.
Oversize portfolio of loosely-bound pages containing John Simpson's journals of his voyages on the HMS Plover. Inserts include handbills printed while at Point Barrow, and pasted inside the portfolio cover, a newspaper clipping on the continuing search for Sir John Franklin's party.
Much of the correspondence consists of letters, memos, and naval orders sent to Simpson, but there are letters written by him to family members such as his sister, and to other individuals. Letters written by him while aboard the Plover in August 1852 describe his experiences and surroundings; one discusses the growing town of San Francisco. A letter from a Mr. Beechey, who served on the Plover with Simpson and on other Navy ships, discusses fossils at length. In one draft letter written in 1844, Simpson outlines the naval positions he has held to date, and asks for a raise in wages. A late letter written in summer 1855 while he served in the hospital at Malta describes his experience there. Arranged in date order. An additional folder of correspondence can be found in the Medical Files Series.
Legal documents principally related to Simpson's naval appointments, but also includes his will (1852) which is attached to documents produced after his death in 1859. Arranged in date order, with oversize documents appearing at the end of the series.
Orders and appointments issued to Simpson, including his appointment to the HMS Blonde and orders concerning his service on the emigration transport Superior.
Orders and appointments issued to Simpson, including his appointments to the HM Cutter Seaflower, the HMS Bonetta, and the HMS Plover; an order appointing Simpson to serve in the Malta Hospital (dated 1855); and a letter notifying Simpson of his promotion to the rank of Surgeon.
Document (1856) in Italian ordering Simpson to testify at a trial in the court of Malta against a "Giuseppe Meli[s?], and a last will and testament of an unknown individual (illegible), written on a small piece of paper dated May 18, no year. The individual appears to be a naval officer.
Affixed to a document from Her Majesty's Court of Probate (1859 Sep. 23) that records the date and location of Simpson's death (1859 Aug. 29 at Haslar Hospital in the county of Southampton). The document states that Simpson's effects were disbursed to his sister Ellen Simpson, spinster.
Contains Simpson's medical papers, including correspondence, Simpson's academic transcript, surgeon's journals and assistant surgeon's journals from several of his voyages, and manuscripts of four medical treatises by Simpson.
Several letters from Simpson's medical career, including correspondence relating to Simpson's medical examinations, his pay, and reimbursement of expenses. Also includes a transcript listing Simpson's coursework and training, with dates and institutions (dated 1858).
Includes a printed copy of Simpson's treatise, "On the Causes of the Spiral Direction of the Umbilical Vessels, and the Convolutions of the Cord in the Human Foetus;" an 1857 report on the Naval Medical Supplemental Fund; and a number of blank forms and certificates, among various other printed matter. (11 items)
Printed copy of the college's regulations.
Folder houses Simpson's "Rough Journal for 1851" and two small notebooks of Simpson's medical notes; five small volumes were removed from this folder and placed in boxes 7 and 8 for improved housing. (3 items)
Contains materials from Simpson's voyages on the Plover, including notes on the ailments suffered by the crew members and inventories of the ship's medical supplies. (28 items)
A handwritten, paperbound copy (much of its binding missing) of a treatise by Simpson, "On the Causes of the Spiral Direction of the Umbilical Vessels, and the Convolutions of the Cord in the Human Foetus."
A series of handwritten sheets containing a treatise by Simpson, "On Scurvy." The treatise is undated, but it references Simpson's experiences aboard the HMS Plover and thus it must have been written some time after that voyage ended in 1855.
Contents include a published volume entitled System of Anatomical Plates with Descriptive Letterpress (Part VI). (5 items)
Oversize--contains a blank chart for recording human dimensions (1 item)
Contains a list of the officers and crew of the HMS Plover; a sick list for the voyage (recording the names of the men whom Simpson treated on the voyage, listing the date they fell ill; the nature of their complaint; and the number of days they remained incapacitated; and a journal recording details of the ship's provisions, the sailors' diet, and the treatments that Simpson administered to each of his patients.
A continuation of Simpson's journal from the Plover, with an updated list of the vessel's officers and crew, a continuation of the sick list, and further journal entries.
Sick lists from four voyages on which Simpson served as an assistant surgeon. The sick list for the Bonetta is incomplete: Simpson seems to have started the list in this volume only to subsequently transfer the first few entries and continue the list in a different volume.
A volume containing three handwritten letters praising Simpson's service and recommending him for future posts. The first letter, signed by R.H. Brown, surgeon for the HMS Blonde, praises Simpson's work as an assistant surgeon on that vessel. The second letter, signed by T. Bourchire, attests that Simpson landed with an expeditionary force and served admirably during a battle. The third letter, signed by J. Walcott, a secretary in the Colonial Land and Emigration Office, states that Simpson discharged his duties satisfactorily while serving aboard the emigration transport Superior.
Volume containing a handwritten treatise by Simpson.
Simpson's notes and writings on Inuit language and culture, including drawings, maps, and a published copy of Simpson's Observations on the Western Eskimo. Other observations on native Inuit culture, as well as maps and drawings, are found in his accounts of voyages.
Contains hand-drawn maps of the Alaskan coastline and sketches of Inuit individuals, native dress, and tattooing.
Unbound sheets with further notes on Inuit languages.
Eskimo-English vocabulary and a published copy of Simpson's Observations on the Western Eskimo. (2 items)
Simpson's extensive meteorological observations recorded during his time at Point Barrow in the Arctic, including detailed charts of temperatures and other climactic data.
Miscellaneous papers from Simpson's files that fall outside the scope of the other series. Includes a copy of a handwritten treatise Navigation, by Simpson's brother, William Simpson.
Various papers, including a small list of notes jotted down during the passage through the Isthmus of Panama; lists of supplies; small unidentified manuscript charts; a sketch of a writing desk; writings on miscellaneous subjects, including the descriptions of a shark and other fish; and an envelope bearing Simpson's address in Picadilly.
Oversize handwritten arithmetic textbook containing a series of navigational problems and their solutions. It is divided into seven major parts: "Plane Sailing"; "Traverse Sailing"; "Middle Latitude Sailing"; "Mercator's sailing"; "Of the Variation of the Compass"; "Oblique Sailing"; and "A Journal of a Voyage from London to Madeira and Teneriffe."
Various printed materials from Simpson's files, unrelated to previous series, including several handbills printed aboard the HMS Plover.
Contains various printed materials, including two handbills printed aboard the HMS Plover.
Includes Simpson's diploma from the College of Edinburg; a page from a Supplement to the Malta Observer" (1859 July 2); and a blank chart entitled "Naval Officer's Certificate" intended for recording the names, genders, and ages of passengers.
Includes a printed poster, "Regulations to be Observed on Board Government Emigrant Ships," 1842; a map entitled "Discoveries in the Arctic Sea up to MDCCCLVI"; a supplement to the Illustrated Times of 1858 Nov. 6, entitled "Illustrated Times Map of Scotland"; and one page from the 1861 Jan. 24 issue of a South African newspaper, containing a report communicated to the paper by Simpson's brother, William Simpson of an outbreak of measles in the village of Ceres.
Playbills announcing various plays, dances, and entertainments aboard the HMS Plover, and a volume containing notes on plays and Simpson's original poetry. Much of this material was printed by Simpson and assistants and are early examples of shipboard printing. Other pieces are hand-lettered.
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.]
Stam, David H.. Books on Ice: British and American Literature of Polar Exploration. New York: Grolier Club, 2005.
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Blonde (Ship)
- Franklin, John, Sir, 1786-1847
- Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Medical care
- Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Surgeons
- Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Sea life
- Plover (Ship)
- Superior (Ship)
- 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
- Arctic regions -- Climate -- Observations
- Alaska -- Discovery and exploration -- British
- Arctic regions -- History, Naval -- 19th century
- Arctic regions -- Description and travel
- Arctic regions -- Discovery and exploration -- British
- Barrow, Point (Alaska) -- Discovery and exploration -- British
- Canada -- Discovery and exploration -- British
- Guyana -- Emigration and immigration
- Sierra Leone -- Emigration and immigration
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.
Processed by L. Colby Bogie, July 2010
Encoded by L. Colby Bogie and Paula Jeannet, July 2010
Accession is described in this finding aid.