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Wilson, Edward Adrian

Wilson, Edward Adrian

Alias: Ted, Uncle Bill

Title: Dr

Dates: 1872-1912

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver)

Edward Adrian Wilson was born in Cheltenham, England on 23 July 1872, second son of a respected Cheltenham medical practitioner. He was educated at Cheltenham College and studied natural science and medicine at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and St. George's Hospital, London. In 1898, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent several months convalescing in Norway and Switzerland, giving him the opportunity to hone his skills as a watercolour artist and wildlife illustrator.

After qualifying in medicine in 1900, Wilson practised at Cheltenham Hospital, where in 1901 he was appointed Junior House Surgeon. Later in the same year he was selected to join the British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04 (Discovery), led by Robert Falcon Scott, as junior surgeon and zoologist. Less than a month before his departure to the Antarctic, he married Oriana Souper.

Whilst on this expedition, he accompanied Scott and Ernest Shackleton on the first major sledge journey, exploring inland across the Ross Ice Shelf toward the South Pole. On 30 December 1902, they reached 82°17' S, their farthest south. Wilson's abilities in accurately illustrating both topography and wildlife on the expedition were invaluable and his skills as confidant and mediator were equally valued.

On his return to England in 1904, Wilson wrote up and published his zoological data, and was commissioned to illustrate books on British birds and mammals. He was appointed as principal field-observer, anatomist and physiologist to the Board of Agriculture's investigation into the cause of grouse disease on British moorlands.

In 1909, Wilson was again approached by Scott to accompany him on the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova), as chief of scientific staff. During the winters at Cape Evans on Ross Island, he sketched and painted many Antarctic landscapes, the majority of which are now held in the archives of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. He led a winter sledging journey to Cape Crozier to collect emperor penguin embryos, and was selected by Scott for the long sledging journey to the South Pole.

On 17 January 1912, Wilson, along with Scott, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans, reached the Pole only to find that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. On the return journey, the weakened party faced exceptionally unfavourable weather and sledging conditions. Wilson died with Scott and Bowers in late March 1912, laid up in a blizzard 11 miles short of One Ton Depot. He is commemorated in the Antarctic by Wilson Hills (69°40' S 158°30' E) and Wilson Canyon (70°35' S 176°15' E).

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