Signatures in the Bradford Scrapbooks


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 SingersEdward 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.

4 thoughts on “Signatures in the Bradford Scrapbooks

  1. Compiling the scrapbook(s) must be a facinating project, to have history in one’s own hands. The newspaper artciles and personal letters often contain information that can augment understanding of specific events — much like the previously posted Richard Kimball letter with its intricate penmanship.

    Studying the signatures of mentioned persons or “luminaries,” including Dr. Isaac Isreal Hayes (my personal hero), must be an incredible experience. The Arctic has had numerous glorious expeditions, such as those by Bradford and Hayes, and with respect to John Franklin and his party, exploration ended in tragedy. I’m sure it’s a great honour to document the events collected in the scrapbooks.

    Thank you for these informative blogs.
    Frances Hennessey

  2. Frances, many thanks for your kind and thoughtful comment — delighted to hear from another fan of Dr. Hayes. It is quite amazing, I will confess, seeing all of these signatures of the great in one place … along with quite a few others, some of which have proven a little tricky to decipher. It’s detective work of the most enjoyable kind!

  3. I’m interested in your comment, “Henry Morford, an American poet, novelist, and author of numerous travel books who was one of the regulars a Pfaff’s..”

    Morford was my great great grandfather and I have done an extensive amount of research on his life. I had heard some rumors of his time at Pfaff’s but can find no evidence of same. The website “The Vault at Pfaff’s” lists the bios of 150 such authors and their works but he is not among them. Do you have a citation for me as to where you came by this information? I have seen and communicated with the people at that cite they took information from the American National Biography Online Citation: Daniel Webster Hollis. “Morford, Henry.” But have no primary sources to rely upon.

    There is also mention of the same in a comment in

    Thank you for your help!

  4. Hello Ken,

    Many thanks for your comment, and I’m delighted to hear from the great great grandson of one of the signers of Bradford’s book. My source for the association between Morford and Pfaff’s is indeed the entry in American National Biography by Daniel Webster Hollis. Although this is generally regarded as an authoritative general reference, on checking I cannot locate any online or scanned primary sources — this may well be simply on account of the fact that whether one is a “regular” somewhere is largely a matter of hearsay and chance reference. I can only imagine that Mr. Hollis had some piece of evidence before him; have you checked with the New-York Historical Society? From experience, I would hazard a guess that their collections might be the ideal place to look.

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