The Archive of Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell, RN, 1842-67

Item date: 1842-1867
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £160,000
Item date acquired: 2012
Item institution: Norfolk Record Office
Town/City: Norwich
County: Norfolk

Captain Samuel Gurney Cresswell (1827-67), Arctic explorer and artist, and the first naval officer to cross the entire North-West Passage, is a major figure in the history of Arctic exploration. In Norfolk, he is regarded as one of the county’s great heroes. He was fêted in his lifetime in King’s Lynn and commemorated by a stained-glass window in the town’s minster church of St Margaret. He is also considered to be a significant figure in Canadian history.

The archive contains manuscripts and drawings by Samuel Gurney Cresswell or connected to his career, including:

  • Seventeen letters written by Cresswell either from the Arctic or directly relating to Arctic exploration and the search for Franklin, some stitched together, including one letter of 20 pp written in July 1848 from Baffin Bay, and another letter of 22 pages written from Whale Island, plus retained copies of other Arctic correspondence testimonials, etc .
  • Letters written to Cresswell concerning his service in the Arctic and matters relating to the search for Franklin. Including an important 6 pp letter from Sophia Cracroft, Jane Franklin's niece by marriage
  • Large group of letters relating to Cresswell's naval career during the Crimean War, Opium War and throughout his career. 
  • Cresswell’s watercolours from the Arctic. 20 colour watercolours and 39 monochrome sketches with an additional 4 large watercolours of a non-Arctic subject matter and 1 engraving. The most recent biography of Cresswell, D. Harrod and S. G. Cresswell, War, Ice and Piracy. The remarkable Career of a Victorian Sailor: the Journals and Letters of Samuel Gurney Cresswell (London, 2000), has brought to prominence drawings from the album. The album is regarded as a nationally important record of polar exploration.
Cresswell's sketch of HMS Investigator and HMS Enterprise cutting through the ice. FNL grant 2012. Image courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.
Cresswell's sketch of HMS Investigator and HMS Enterprise cutting through the ice. FNL grant 2012. Image courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.