Alexander Stevens and James Wordie

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A staff post from Jesper Ericsson, Curatorial Assistant at The Hunterian.

As a follow-up to my previous posts about Alexander Stevens and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914 – 17, there was also another University of Glasgow graduate on the expedition.

James Wordie (1889 – 1962).
James Wordie (1889 – 1962).

Alexander Stevens was Chief Scientist and Biologist of the Ross Sea Party; their story has already been told. James Wordie (1889 – 1962) was Chief Scientist and Geologist of the Weddell Sea Party with Sir Ernest Shackleton on Endurance. Born in Partick, Wordie had graduated from the University of Glasgow with a BSc in geology and studied further at St John’s College, Cambridge, before volunteering for the expedition.

The Weddell Sea Party left Plymouth onboard Endurance on 8 August 1914, sailing for Buenos Aires and on to South Georgia. On 5 December, Endurance left the Grytviken whaling station, bound for Antarctica. Unexpectedly thick pack ice was quickly encountered, which slowed the journey. By 14 February 1915, Endurance was completely trapped by the ice. The stricken vessel remained stuck over the Antarctic winter, slowly drifting north. Shackleton ordered the ship to be abandoned on 27 October as the ice crushed Endurance beyond repair. It eventually sank on 21 November. The men were forced to survive in camps for several months until on 9 April 1916, the ice floe they were on broke up around them. Forced to take to three lifeboats that had been salvaged from the wreckage of Endurance, the decision was made to aim for Elephant Island, a distance of around 100 miles. The party arrived there seven days later. Whilst most stayed on Elephant Island, including Wordie, Shackleton and five others embarked on an extraordinarily dangerous 800 mile journey to South Georgia in one of the open lifeboats, the James Caird. Departing on 24 April 1916, they arrived on 10 May. Shackleton was then able to organise the rescue of the rest of his party, who were finally picked up on 30 August.

The Hunterian holds geological specimens brought back from Elephant Island by Wordie, some of which are on display. This means that for the very first time, items relating to both Chief Scientists of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (both of whom were graduates of the University) are on display at the same time, a fitting tribute to mark the centenary of the rescue of the Ross Sea Party and the official end of the expedition.

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