University of Sussex
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The meaning of ice: scientific scrutiny and the visual record obtained from the British polar expeditions between 1772 and 1854

posted on 2023-06-08, 17:35 authored by Trevor David Oliver Ware
This thesis is an analysis of the work produced by artists accompanying naval expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic regions between 1772 and 1854. The expeditions were mainly by sea and supplemented in the Arctic by some overland. Their aims were scientific and organised chiefly, but not exclusively, in conjunction with the Royal Society of London. Various British Governments sought strategic advantages along with international recognition for finding both a Southern Continent and a North West passage. The thesis seeks to examine the visual accounts of ice on the expeditions comparing them with voyage narratives written by the commanders subsequently published by the Admiralty. It is also directed towards visual material used by scene painters for the popular panoramas and theatrical shows featuring Polar voyages produced in Britain during the period under examination and the objectivity given by the scene painters and showmen. The examination is completed by analysis of Arctic conditions including ice, in new illustrated magazines from the early 1840’s, The Illustrated London News in particular, which re interpreted source materials from voyage narratives and panoramas. The thesis is chronologically arranged starting at the time of Captain James Cook’s voyage towards the South Pole and around Antarctica, 1772 to 1775 and his final voyage into the Arctic Ocean 1778 to 1779. when no reliable or empirically based knowledge about ice existed. The introduction to the thesis explains the legacies created by both Cook’s observations about ice from his voyage narratives as well as the sketches and engravings prepared after each voyage by two separate professional artists commissioned by the British Admiralty. The thesis ends with the last two naval expeditions searching for Sir John Franklin and his crews, one of which made the discovery of a North West passage in 1853 -1855. By the end of the entire period the extent of the northern Canadian coastline and navigable sea and land routes between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans through Canada had been mapped almost completely, British scientists, including geologists, botanists, zoologists, meteorologists, glaciologists and geographers had studied many aspects of the region. The Antarctic Continent still remained comparatively unexplored but evidence from a single naval expedition after Cook showed that this South Polar region bore little resemblance to the Arctic.


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  • Art History Theses

Qualification level

  • masters

Qualification name

  • mphil


  • eng


University of Sussex

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