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Priestley, Raymond Edward

Priestley, Raymond Edward

Alias: Messman, Ray

Title: Sir

Rank: Major

Dates: 1886-1974

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Founder's Medal, Royal Geographical Society; Military Cross; Knight of the British Empire (1949)

Raymond Edward Priestley was on born 20 July 1886 at Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire. He was educated at Tewkesbury Grammar School and read botany and geology at University College Bristol. He joined the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod) as a geologist, working under Professor Edgeworth David of Sydney University. He took part in the sledging programme, leading both the second ascent of Mount Erebus, which resulted in Priestley sleeping outside for 72 hours because there were not enough tents for all the men, and the Western Party in December 1908. After the expedition he continued his studies at Cambridge and Sydney universities, and carried on working with Edgeworth David in Australia, finally publishing a report on the geological findings in 1914.

In 1910, Priestley joined the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova) as geologist to the Northern Party that left Cape Evans on 5 January 1911 to carry out the exploration of the coast west and south of Cape Adare. The party was to have been brought back by ship to the main base before the winter of 1912 set in, but gales and ice prevented the ship from reaching them. Priestley and five companions wintered in a snow cave on Inexpressible Island on very few rations. On 30 September 1912 they set out on the 200-mile sledge journey to Cape Evans, arriving there on 7 November. Priestley described his experiences on that journey in ‘Antarctic Adventure’.

On his return, Priestley married Phyllis Mary Boyd on 10 April 1915, in New Zealand, and together they had two daughters. Priestley served in World War I, achieving the rank of Major commanding the 46th (North Midland) Divisional Signal Company R.E. from 1917–19 and being awarded a Military Cross for his part in the taking of Riqueval Bridge with the 137th Infantry Brigade. He returned to Cambridge as Fellow of Clare College to write a history of the Signal Service and complete his Antarctic reports.

In 1920, along with a fellow geologist on Terra Nova, Frank Debenham, he set up the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. From Cambridge, he was appointed vice-chancellor of Melbourne University (1935-38), and vice-chancellor of Birmingham University (1938-52). Knighted in 1949, he became acting-director of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey from 1955 to 1959, and president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1961 to 1968. He died on 24 June 1972 aged 87, at Nuffield Nursing Home, Cheltenham.

Priestley was awarded both the Polar Medal and the Founder's Medal by the Royal Geographical Society, as well as numerous honorary degrees and doctorates. His work in Antarctic science is commemorated by a variety of geographical features in Antarctica including Mount Priestley 75°11' S 161°53' E, first charted by the Nimrod expedition, and Priestley Glacier 74°20' S 163°22' E, first explored by the Northern Party during the Terra Nova Expedition.


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