Edward Wilson

(c. 1872—1912) Antarctic explorer and naturalist

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(1872–1912), English surgeon, artist, and zoologist for the first of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Antarctic expeditions (1901–1904), and scientific director for the second (1910–1912). Wilson proved to be one of the most durable of the five-person party that reached the pole shortly after Roald Amundsen did, but he died during the return march in 1912. Wilson's association with this quintessential tale of English heroic failure has both preserved and obscured his contributions to the history of exploration. Wilson's highly accurate and aesthetically refined drawings and watercolors record the activities of the Scott expeditions and provide details of wildlife, climatic conditions, and topography. Wilson had a particular scientific interest in penguins, and his observations were important early contributions to Antarctic ornithology. His careful observations and methodical work habits fit well with the scientific agenda of Scott, by whom he was much admired; but to the extent that this modus operandi sacrificed haste for deliberation and note taking, it might have been yet another factor that contributed to the failure of the second expedition. What is sure is that Wilson's graphic work was the endgame for sketching and painting as documentary methods in polar exploration, as still photography and movie cameras superseded such methods. Wilson's diaries and the majority of his pictures, including many specimen studies that are unpublished, are archived at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, England. These documents and pictures may be usefully studied for insights into the priorities of polar fieldwork and the sensibilities that shaped early-twentieth-century ideas about the Antarctic and the place of people in such a landscape.


From The Oxford Companion to World Exploration in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: World History.

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