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Edward Adrian Wilson

Edward Adrian Wilson
Edward Adrian Wilson
Born (1872-07-23)23 July 1872
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Died 29 March 1912(1912-03-29) (aged 39)
Education Cheltenham College, Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Occupation Explorer
Spouse(s) Oriana Souper (married 1901–1912)

Edward Adrian Wilson FZS ("Uncle Bill") (23 July 1872 – 29 March 1912) was an English physician, polar explorer, natural historian, painter and ornithologist.


  • Early life 1
  • Antarctica 2
    • Discovery Expedition 2.1
    • Terra Nova Expedition 2.2
  • In media 3
  • Memorials 4
  • See also 5
  • External links 6
  • References 7

Early life

Born in Montpellier Terrace, Battersea in his spare time.[10] In February 1898, shortly before qualifying as a doctor, Wilson became seriously ill and was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, contracted during his mission work.[11] During a long convalescence from this illness he spent months in Norway and Switzerland, time he used to practice and develop his skills as an artist.[12] He qualified in medicine in 1900 and the next year was appointed Junior House Surgeon at Cheltenham General Hospital.[13] He married Oriana Souper on 16 July 1901 just three weeks before setting off for the Antarctic as a member of Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition.[14]


Wilson's 1911 watercolour "The great ice barrier – looking east from Cape Crozier"

Wilson took part in two British expeditions to Antarctica, the Discovery Expedition and the Terra Nova Expedition, both under the leadership of Scott.

Discovery Expedition

From 1901 to 1904, Wilson acted as Junior Surgeon, Zoologist and expedition artist, setting off with the expedition on 6 August 1901. They reached Antarctica in January 1902. On 2 November 1902, Wilson, Scott and Ernest Shackleton set off on a journey that, at the time, was the southern-most trek achieved by any explorer. The party had dogs but they were not experienced in using them and the food brought for the dogs had gone bad. With many of the dogs dead, they turned back on 31 December 1902 having reached latitude 82°17'S. They had travelled 300 miles farther south than anyone before them and were only 480 miles from the Pole. Shackleton was deteriorating rapidly, coughing blood and suffering fainting spells and unable to help pull the sledge. Scott and Wilson, themselves suffering, struggled to get the party home. It was a close call but 93 days after setting off, having covered 960 miles, they reached the Discovery and safety in February 1903. The following month, Shackleton, having suffered particularly badly from scurvy and exhaustion, was sent home early by Scott on the relief ship, Morning. On his return, Shackleton asked Wilson to join his Nimrod expedition to Antarctica in 1907, but partly out of loyalty to Scott, he declined.

Terra Nova Expedition

On 15 June 1910, Wilson set sail from Cardiff on the Terra Nova, as Chief of the Scientific Staff of Scott's final expedition. After making stops in Madeira, South Trinidad, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, the Terra Nova was trapped for 3 weeks by pack ice, and finally arrived at Cape Evans in McMurdo Sound in early January 1911. A base camp hut was built and 3 weeks later work began to establish the supply depots in preparation for the journey to the South Pole the following austral spring. Deteriorating weather conditions and weak, unacclimatised ponies meant that the main supply point, One Ton Depot, was laid 35 miles (56 km) further north of its planned location at 80°S, something that was to prove critical during the return journey from the Pole the following year.

Herbert Ponting's photograph of the three Emperor penguin eggs

In the austral winter of 1911, Wilson led "The Winter Journey", a journey with Henry Robertson Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard, to the Emperor penguin breeding grounds at Cape Crozier to collect eggs for scientific study. The 60-mile journey was made in almost total darkness, with temperatures reaching as low as −70 °F (−57 °C). Frozen and exhausted, they reached their goal only to be stopped by a blizzard during which their tent was ripped away and carried off by the wind, leaving the men trapped in their sleeping bags for a day and a half under a thickening drift of snow. When the winds subsided, by great fortune they found their tent lodged about half a mile away in rocks. Having successfully collected three eggs and desperately exhausted they returned to Cape Evans on 1 August 1911, five weeks after setting off. Cherry-Garrard later described this expedition in his memoir, The Worst Journey in the World.

At the South Pole: Wilson (left), Scott, Oates (standing); Bowers and Evans (sitting)

On 1 November 1911, fourteen men set off from Cape Evans on the long trip to the South Pole. 79 days later, Wilson was one of the five-man Polar party that reached the Pole on 18 January 1912, only to find the pole had been claimed by Norwegian Roald Amundsen and his team just five weeks earlier.

The grave of Wilson, Bowers and Scott

Their return journey soon became a desperate affair due to the combination of exhaustion, lack of nutrients in their diet and exceptionally adverse weather. On 17 February, near the base of the Beardmore glacier, Petty Officer Edgar Evans died, suspected to be from a brain injury sustained after a fall into a crevasse two weeks earlier. Then, in a vain attempt to save his companions, Captain Lawrence Oates deliberately stumbled out of their tent to his death on 16 March after his frostbitten feet developed gangrene. Wilson, Scott and Bowers continued on for 3 more days, progressing 20 more miles, but were stopped by a blizzard on 20 March 11 miles short of the 'One Ton' food depot that could have saved them. The blizzard continued for days, longer than they had fuel and food for. Too weak, cold and hungry to continue, they died in their tent on or soon after 29 March (Scott's last diary entry), still 148 miles from their base camp. Their bodies were found by a search party the following spring on 12 November 1912. Their tent was collapsed over them by the search party who then buried them where they lay, under a snow cairn, topped by a cross made from a pair of skis. When news of the tragedy reached Britain in February 1913, it created a national mourning.

Affectionately nicknamed 'Uncle Bill' by the men of the expedition, Wilson was the confidant of many, respected for his judgement, skills at mediation and dedication to others. By all accounts, Wilson was probably Scott's closest comrade of the expedition. Scott wrote "Words must always fail me when I talk of Bill Wilson. I believe he really is the finest character I ever met." When Scott's final camp was discovered by a search team in November 1912, Bowers and Wilson were found frozen in their sleeping bags. Scott's bag was open and his body partially out of his bag – his left arm was extended across Wilson.

In 1913 he was posthumously awarded the Patron's Medal by the Royal Geographical Societyfor his work in the Antarctic.[15] At Gonville and Caius College the college's flag which Wilson took to the South Pole is preserved.

In media

In the film Scott of the Antarctic, Wilson was played by Harold Warrender. In the Central TV production 'The Last Place on Earth', Wilson was played by Stephen Moore. In the BBC Four production 'The Worst Journey in the World', Wilson was played by John Artur.


Statue of Wilson in the Promenade, Cheltenham

The statue of Wilson on the Promenade in Cheltenham, modelled by Scott's widow Kathleen, was unveiled on 9 July 1914 by Arctic explorer Sir Clements Markham. In September 2013 the Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum was renamed 'The Wilson' in his honour.[16] There is a large block of flats named after him in Hesters Way, Cheltenham.

The Edward Wilson Primary School in

  • Williams, Isobel (2008). With Scott in the Antarctic : Edward Wilson – explorer, naturalist, artist. Stroud: History Press.  
  1. ^ Williams 2008, p. 17.
  2. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 23–25.
  3. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 25–26.
  4. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 22,26.
  5. ^ Williams 2008, p. 24.
  6. ^ Williams 2008, p. 26.
  7. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 28,30.
  8. ^ "Wilson, Edward Adrian (WL891EA)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  9. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 34–35.
  10. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 41–48.
  11. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 50–51.
  12. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 52–56.
  13. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 31,58–64.
  14. ^ Williams 2008, pp. 69–70.
  15. ^ "List of Past Gold Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  16. ^ "Cheltenham's Museum and Art Gallery renamed The Wilson". BBC News. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 


  •, Portrait of Edward Wilson in the Cheltenham Town Museum
  •, Biography of Edward Wilson with a good number of his paintings and drawings
  • Details of Edward Wilson material held at the National Marine Biological Library at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth:

External links

See also
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