Debenham, Frank, 1883-1965

Alternative names
Birth 1883-12-26
Death 1965-11-23

Biographical notes:

Epithet: JP

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000267.0x000134

Epithet: of the London County Council

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000267.0x000135

Frank Debenham was born on 26 December 1883 in Bowral, New South Wales, Australia. He was educated at the University of Sydney, initially gaining an arts degree before returning to gain a science degree in 1910, specializing in geology under Professor Edgeworth David. In 1910, he joined the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), as geologist, and made extensive geological and topographical surveys of the mountains and glaciers west of McMurdo Sound. He was also responsible for the photographic work of the expedition after the official photographer, Herbert Ponting, left in 1912.

On his return from the expedition, Debenham went to Cambridge, England to write up the results, but this work was interrupted by the First World War. Joining the Army, he rose to the rank of Major and saw action in Salonika, where he was severely wounded. On his return to Cambridge after demobilization, he resumed work on the expedition reports on geology and maps and surveys. His abilities in this field were recognised when he was appointed Royal Geographical Society lecturer in surveying at the University of Cambridge in 1919. This was followed by a readership in geography, and in 1931, he was appointed first professor of geography at the university. Instrumental in founding the Scott Polar Research Institute in 1920, he was its first director from 1926 until 1946. He also founded The Polar Record in 1931, becoming its first editor. After his retirement in 1949, he travelled and worked in central Africa and published scientific papers and books on polar and geographical matters. He died in Cambridge on 23 November 1965.

Published work, In the Antarctic, stories of Scott's last expedition; with illustrations by Edward Wilson and the author, Frank Debenham, Erskine Press, England (1998) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1910-1913] and The polar regions by Frank Debenham, Ernest Benn Ltd. London (1930) SPRI Library Shelf (2) and Antarctica, the story of a continent by Frank Debenham, Herbert Jenkins London (1959) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(091)[pub 1959] and The quiet land; the Antarctic diaries of Frank Debenham, member of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1910-1913, Bluntisham Books, Erskine Press, Harleston (1992) SPRI Library Shelf (7) 91(08)[1910-1913]

From the guide to the Frank Debenham collection, 1910-1965, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)


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  • London, county of, England (as recorded)
  • Antarctica Discovery and exploration (as recorded)