Robert McCormick's geological collections from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, 1839–1843

Stone, Philip. 2020 Robert McCormick's geological collections from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, 1839–1843. Archives of Natural History, 47 (1). 147-165.

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Robert McCormick (1800–1890) took part in three mid-nineteenth-century British Polar expeditions, two to the Arctic and one to the Antarctic. The latter, from 1839 to 1843 and led by James Clark Ross, is the best known. McCormick served as senior surgeon on HMS Erebus and was responsible for the collection of zoological and geological specimens. Despite the novelty and potential scientific importance of these early geological collections from Antarctica and remote islands in the Southern Ocean, they received surprisingly little attention at the time. Ross deposited an official collection with the British Museum in 1844, soon after the expedition's return, and this was supplemented by McCormick's personal collection, bequeathed in 1890. McCormick had contributed brief and idiosyncratic geological notes to the expedition report published by Ross in 1847, but it was not until 1899 that an informed description of the Antarctic rocks was published, and only in 1921 were McCormick's palaeobotanical specimens from Kerguelen examined. His material from other Southern Ocean islands received even less attention; had it been utilized at the time it would have supplemented the better-known collections made by the likes of Charles Darwin. In later life, McCormick became increasingly embittered over the lack of recognition afforded to him for his work in the Polar regions. Despite that contemporary neglect, his collections from the Ross Antarctic expedition provide unique insight into the geological work of nineteenth-century British naval surgeons.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 0260-9541
Date made live: 09 Jul 2020 13:27 +0 (UTC)

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