Russell A. Potter has been fascinated with the Arctic regions for many years, and has written and lectured extensively on many different aspects of its history. His book Arctic Spectacles: The Frozen North in Visual Culture, 1818-1875, is required reading for anyone interested in our Arctic Visions exhibit. In addition to contributing to this blog he is providing critical guidance as Curatorial Consultant, and has authored the Introduction to our re-publication of Arctic Regions.
The scrapbooks of William Bradford’s memorabilia owned by the Museum are filled with documentary evidence of Bradford’s life and career. Their contents include many letters and notes to and from Bradford, hundreds of newspaper clippings about him and his achievements, and dozens of autographs. As we begin to look through the scrapbooks and trace the histories of those who signed their names, we’re getting fresh insights into Bradford’s relationships with other artists, authors, explorers, and public figures from the late 19th century, as well as the broader culture of the Victorian era in both England and America.
The signatures alone offer a fascinating cross-section of Bradford’s audience; the book was apparently used both in London during Bradford’s sojourns there, as well as back home in New Bedford in his studio. There are, as one might expect, a wide variety of Arctic luminaries, among them Sir John Franklin’s daughter Eleanor Gell, his widow Lady Jane, and her niece Sophia Cracroft. The commanders of many of the searches for Franklin were well-represented, with Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, Captain Edward Augustus Inglefield, Dr. John Rae, and Bradford’s associate Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes all present. American naval officers were also in attendance, including Commander S.B. Luce, a distinguished career officer and founder of the Naval War College, as well as Rear Admiral Charles S. Boggs, then commander of the US European fleet.
Such dignitaries might be expected to take an interest in Arctic exploration, photography, and art, but the scrapbook reveals that Bradford’s admirers were a very diverse group, from all walks of life and interests. The Reverend Francis Russell Nixon, an Australian Anglican bishop and a pioneering photographer, was there, as was Mrs. Baden Powell, whose stepson Robert Baden-Powell would later go on to found the Boy Scouts. Literary types were prominent, among them the novelist Wilkie Collins, friend and protege of Charles Dickens, who had in 1857 written “The Frozen Deep,” a highly-regarded drama loosely based on the Franklin expedition, as well as Henry Morford, an American poet, novelist, and author of numerous travel books who was one of the regulars a Pfaff’s, a legendary beer-cellar in New York whose denizens included Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. The names of several other well-known travel writers are also present, among them Sir Henry Holland and Bayard Taylor.
Politicians, of course, were not scarce among Bradford’s visitors; in addition to a wide cross-section of British aristocracy (Lord Dufferin, Lady Argyll, Lord and Lady Cowper), there were numerous members of Parliament such as Edward Gourley and Arthur Wellesley Soames; US Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, and Sir Herbert Jerningham, later the Governor of Trinidad and Tobago. And yet there were also a great many noteworthy persons who needed no fancy titles to distinguish them; there was Benjamin M. Holmes, one of the original members of the Fisk Jubilee Singers; Edward Whymper, the first man to scale the Matterhorn; pioneering feminist writer Caroline Norton; and Frederick Pollock, an eminent legal historian whose grandson, Sir George F. Pollock, is a highly-regarded photographer today.
We’re still combing through the signatures, and learning more about those who passed through Bradford’s studio. The scrapbooks also contain personal letters, many of them to and from well-known Arctic figures, among them Rae, Charles Francis Hall, and David Brainard, second-in-command of the ill-fated Greely expedition. Lastly, there are newspaper clippings, hundreds of them, such as the one shown here, which describes Wilkie Collins’s lecture tour, and his staying as a guest at Bradford’s home. There’s much more to be discovered, we’re sure, and as we make those discoveries we’ll share them here.