Wilson, Edward, 1872-1912

Alternative names
Birth 1872-07-23
Death 1912-03-29

Biographical notes:

Edward Adrian Wilson was born in Cheltenham, England on 23 July 1872, second son of a respected Cheltenham medical practitioner. He was educated at Cheltenham College and studied natural science and medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and St. George's Hospital, London. In 1898, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent several months convalescing in Norway and Switzerland, giving him the opportunity to hone his skills as a watercolour artist and wildlife illustrator. After qualifying in medicine in 1900, Wilson practised at Cheltenham Hospital, where in 1901 he was appointed Junior House Surgeon. Later in the same year he was selected to join the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), as junior surgeon and zoologist. Less than a month before his departure to the Antarctic, he married Oriana Souper. Whilst on this expedition, he accompanied Scott and Ernest Henry Shackleton on a major sledge journey, exploring inland across the Ross Ice Shelf toward the South Pole. On 30 December 1902, the party reached 82°17'S, their farthest south. Wilson's abilities in accurately illustrating both topography and wildlife on the expedition were invaluable and his skills as confidant and mediator were equally valued.

On his return to England in 1904, Wilson wrote up and published his zoological data, and was commissioned to illustrate books on British birds and mammals. He was appointed as principal field-observer, anatomist and physiologist to the Board of Agriculture's investigation into the cause of grouse disease on British moor lands.

In 1909, Wilson was again approached by Scott to accompany him on the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913, as chief of the scientific staff. During the winters at Cape Evans on Ross Island, he sketched and painted many Antarctic landscapes, the majority of which are now held in the archives of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. He led a winter sledging journey with Henry Robertson Bowers and Apsley Cherry-Garrard to Cape Crozier to collect emperor penguin embryos, and was selected by Scott for the long sledging journey to the South Pole. On 17 January 1912, Wilson, along with Scott, Henry Robertson Bowers, Lawrence Edward Grace Oates and Edgar Evans, attained the Pole only to find that the Norwegian Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. On the return journey, the weakened party faced exceptionally unfavourable weather and sledging conditions. Wilson died with Scott and Bowers in late March 1912, laid up in a blizzard 11 miles short of One Ton Depot.

Published works, Diary of the Terra Nova expedition 1910-1912, An account of Scott's last expedition edited from the original mss. in the Scott Polar Research Institute and the British Museum by H.G.R. King, Blandford Press, London (1972) UDC number (7) 91(08)[1910-1913 Scott] Diary of the Discovery expedition to the Antarctic regions 1901- 1904 . Edited from the original mss. in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge by Ann Savours, Blandford Press, London (1966) UDC number (7) 91(08)[1901-1904 Scott]

From the guide to the Edward Adrian Wilson collection, 1842-1913, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


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  • Zoology Research
  • Ornithology


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  • Antarctica Discovery and exploration (as recorded)