News & Insights

The Roger Casson Collection: A Library of Polar Exploration, Travel and Local History Books

7th January 2019.

An important private library of polar exploration, travel and local history books, including many rare and important volumes, is to be auctioned at Tennants Auctioneers in North Yorkshire on 10th January in a single-owner sale.

The library was put together over many years by the late Roger Casson, an architect from North East England, and is notable for the outstanding condition of much of the collection. The focus of the library is Polar Exploration in the 19th and early 20th century, which accounts for over 200 lots in the sale. Of particular note are a good collection of works recounting the ill-fated final expedition made by Sir John Franklin in 1845 to find the North-West Passage, and the numerous search missions that followed the disappearance of his ships and their crew.


Of particular note are a good collection of works recounting the ill-fated final expedition made by Sir John Franklin in 1845, and the numerous search missions that followed the disappearance of his ships and their crew - the worst disaster in the history of British polar exploration.

The Franklin expedition, and the mystery surrounding the fate of the crew, has captured the imagination of explorers and polar historians for over 150 years. On 19th May 1845 24 officers and 110 men set sail from London aboard two ships, Erebus and Terror – the best supplied expedition to leave British shores. Under the leadership of Sir John Franklin, an experienced and acclaimed polar explorer, the crew headed for Greenland and then the icy waters of Northern Canada to search for the illusive North-West Passage – a trade route linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The expedition was last seen by European eyes in Baffin Bay, off the west coast of Greenland. After over-wintering, they set sail down the Peel Channel in the spring of 1847, where they became trapped in ice off the coast of King William Island. According to a written record the crew left on Point Victory, Sir John Franklin died in June of that year.

In April 1848 the remaining 105 men, weak, malnourished and facing temperatures of -50C, set off on foot along the coast of King William Island in search of a trading post and help. They never found help; isolated graves have been found, but the fate of the last surviving men will never be known.

After two years without news, Franklin’s determined wife, Jane, lobbied the Admiralty to send a search party. Initially reluctant, due to the ships having been supplied with three years’ worth of food, they eventually began the search. In all, 39 missions were sent, and a £20,000 reward was offered for news of the crew. Over the following years only fragments of remains and stories emerged: in 1854 John Rae met with Netsilik Inuit men who spoke of seeing starving men, of suffering, madness and mutilated bodies that suggested cannibalism. In 1859 Francis McClintock found a note written in 1848, hidden in a cairn as they set off on foot recounting their dire situation.

In modern times, a few bodies have been recovered from shallow graves and high-levels of lead in the remains were thought to indicate possible lead poisoning from the ‘modern’ tinned food aboard the ships. However, it was only when scientific and historical data was combined with the oral history of the native peoples that the Erebus and Terror were found. The Erebus was discovered in 2014, and the Terror in 2016, deep at the bottom of the ocean.


One of the most valuable lots in the sale is a limited edition of The Heart of the Antarctic, Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 by Ernest H. Shackleton. Published by Heinemann in 1909, the two-volume set, which includes two panoramas and three folding maps, in one of only three hundred sets bound in vellum. Also included in the lot, which is offered with an estimate of £7,000-10,000 (plus buyer’s premium), is the accompanying The Antarctic Book, Winter Quarters, 1907-1909, which contains sixteen signatures of the Shore Party from the famous expedition.

Other highlights include a copy of the three-volume The South Polar Times, published by Smith, Elder between 1907-1914, of which a numbered limited edition of 250 were produced, and in this case includes two of the very rare dust wrappers (Estimate: £4,000-8,000 plus b.p.). Also of note is a copy of James Murray and George Marston’s Antarctic Days, Sketches of the homely side of Polar life by two of Shackleton’s Men (Andrew Melrose, 1913). The limited deluxe edition is signed by Murray, Marston and Shackleton, and is being offered with an estimate of £3,000-5,000 (plus b.p.).

The sale will also include numerous books on other travel, including early voyages, and exploration of the Middle East, the history of the North East and architecture.


By Siobhan Casson

Roger John Casson (born 18th September 1943) grew up in Heysham, Lancashire and Wolviston, Teesside and schooled at Barnard Castle, Co. Durham. He received his Associateship of the Royal Institute of British Architects from Northern Polytechnic in 1971. After moving back to the north east he worked for Darnton, Elgee, Wrightson, Jackman and O’Connor for 30 years, becoming a senior partner in 1992 and retiring in 2003.

Roger had a lifetime passion for books – he still owned books from his childhood. In the 1990s he began collecting in earnest, and especially after retirement. He also joined the Newcastle Bookbinding Group at the Lit and Phil and became a skilled bookbinder. Reflected here is the best of his personal library, representing a variety of interests, including his profession of architect, poetry, literature, local history and travel. Several of the books were rebound by him.

During his school years his father’s job took him to many countries, including Venezuela, Kenya and Spain. These early experiences instilled a love of travel in Roger, a passion which he shared with his wife Ann and many of his friends over the years. This passion transferred to his travel collection, the choice of author or location inspired by countries he had visited.

The local history collection stemmed from his love of the north east region and his research into family genealogy which has roots here.

The main collection on Polar Exploration represents an unfulfilled desire to visit Antarctica. His interest in early polar expeditions was piqued when researching the location, and the library grew from there.

Roger passed away on 10th April 2016. It has been very difficult for Ann, son Paul and daughter Siobhan to place the items in this collection up for auction because they represent so much of his life and his interests. Their wish is for the books to pass on to others who share these interests and who will continue to treasure and care for them.

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