James Mann Wordie was born on 26 April 1889 at Partick, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He studied geology at Glasgow University and St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1913 he visited the Yukon and Alaska, and the following year joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition [Weddell Sea Party], 1914-1916 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton), as geologist and chief of scientific staff. After Endurance was crushed in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, the crew lived for six months on drifting ice until this broke up northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Proceeding in three open boats, the party of twenty-eight men reached Elephant Island on 15 April 1916. Wordie and his companions were rescued from the island on 30 August 1916.
During the First World War, he served with distinction as an artillery officer. Between 1919 and 1937, he ran a series of expeditions to the Arctic, including Spitsbergen, Jan Mayen, east and west Greenland, and Baffin Island. In 1947 he returned to the Antarctic to advise on the future programme of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.
Advancing from tutor of St. John's College in 1923 to master in 1952, he became an influential member of British committees concerned with the polar regions, and advisor to the government on polar matters. He was closely associated with the Scott Polar Research Institute from its foundation in 1920, serving as chairman of the committee of management between 1937 and 1955.
He received numerous awards throughout his career, including the CBE in 1947, and he was knighted in 1957. He died on 16 January 1962 in Cambridge.
From the guide to the James Mann Wordie collection, 1914-1958, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)