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Kenn Back’s Polar books collection.

Presented by Adam Douglas and Dominic Somerville of Peter Harrington.

52 works in 61 volumes. All are octavo unless otherwise stated, and in general found in at least very good condition, with occasional sympathetic restoration. Almost all titles contain Back’s bookplate, and his laid-in notes recording provenance and useful bibliographic information. A full description is available on request.

A remarkable collection of more than 50 books on polar, South American, and Australasian exploration, including rare high-spots of 18th-century Pacific and Antarctic exploration, a choice selection of Victorian attempts at the North-West Passage, and several rare narratives from the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, many with superb associations, and several of utmost scarcity in commerce.

Standing at the head of the collection is Phillip Parker King’s annotated copy of his extremely rare Sailing Directions for the Coasts of Eastern and Western Patagonia (1832), which he compiled as captain of the Adventure on her first surveying voyage with the Beagle (1826–30). It is accompanied by a presentation copy of his Sailing Directions for South America (1850), inscribed to Captain John Lort Stokes, who shared a cabin with Charles Darwin on the Beagle’s second voyage, and also containing King’s assiduous annotations. Of comparable scarcity is Viana’s Diario, the only full account of Spain’s greatest 18th-century voyage of Pacific exploration, led by Alessandro Malaspina: it was printed in 1849 on the itinerant press of the army besieging Montevideo in the Uruguayan War.

Other landmarks include the first edition of Pernety’s Journal (1769), an account of the first settlement on the Falkland Islands, established by French circumnavigator Louis de Bougainville, the Back family copy of George Back’s Narrative of the Arctic Land Expedition (1836), and Richard King’s elusive and highly critical account of the same expedition, published the same year.

These books were gathered together over a period of 40 years by Eric Kenneth Prentice “Kenn” Back (b. 1942), meteorologist with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) from 1963 to 2002, and a descendant of Arctic explorer George Back.

During his distinguished career Back saw out eight Antarctic winters (which he believed to be “a BAS record”), completing postings as base commander at Halley, Faraday and Rothera stations, undertook several research secondments to the Canadian Arctic explored by his ancestor.

During what he describes as “a long period of vagrancy”, he worked and travelled widely in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. He is one of a select group of people to have received both the Fuchs Medal, in 1979, and the Polar Medal, awarded the following year. A copy of the full text of Kenn’s informative curriculum vitae, an agreeable.

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