Edward Adrian Wilson
Chief of scientific staff, biologist
(1872 - 1912) - Biographical notes

Assistant surgeon Discovery 1901-04
Chief of scientific staff, biologist Terra Nova 1910-13

George Simpson

Edward Wilson - "Uncle Bill" - is one of the most prominent figures of early Antarctic exploration because of his easy manner and the great respect he received from the men he worked with, because of the paintings and drawings he made and because he was one of the five men making up Scott's team that reached the South Pole, but died on the return journey.

Born in Cheltenham, England, the son of a physician, educated at Cheltenham College and Caius College Cambridge where he read Zoology before qualifying in medicine at St. George's Hospital London. Shortly after he qualified as a doctor, Wilson became ill with tuberculosis, during the long convalescence he practiced and developed his skills as an artist.

In 1901, Wilson applied to be doctor on Scott's Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, he was the second doctor to be appointed, originally because there was to be a landing party separate from the main expedition - this never happened however and both doctors stayed with the expedition. He was not fully recovered from his illness when first appointed, but Scott saw his potential and took him on as vertebrate zoologist and artist as well as doctor.

Expeditions, then and now take doctors, but it is expected that with the high level of fitness of the men, the doctor should have relatively little to do in the way of medicine, with the exception of accidents or the unforeseen, so there is always a secondary occupation that the doctor can fulfill until such time that the medical skills are needed. Wilson's specific job was to deal with the birds and seals that the Expedition came across and to write the appropriate section for publication in the report of the expedition.

He made an attempt on the South Pole with Scott and Shackleton in 1902, they reached the furthest south point at that time, 480 miles from the pole, Shackleton was suffering from scurvy and unable to pull the sledge, after 93 days and 960 miles, they managed to struggle back to safety. Shackleton invited him to join his Nimrod expedition in 1907, but he declined, partly from loyalty to Scott.

On the Terra Nova Expedition he accompanied Cherry-Garrard and Bowers on a trip to Cape Crozier to retrieve an emperor penguin egg in the winter of 1911, famously written about in the book "The Worst Journey in the World". The three men endured the coldest temperatures recorded on the expedition, as low as -57C (-70F) in the dark of the Antarctic night.

Wilson was one of the 5 man South Pole Party who perished on the return journey, he died in the tent at the last camp with Scott and Bowers at the age of 39.

A lasting and acclaimed legacy is the collection of water colour pictures that he made during his two Antarctic expeditions, E. A. Wilson's watercolours. There is a statue of him in Cheltenham sculptured by Scott's widow Kathleen.

"Words must always fail me when I talk of Bill Wilson. I believe he really is the finest character I ever met." - Scott

23 July 1872 - 29 March 1912

Dr Wilson and pony Nobby oct 1911
Dr Wilson and pony Nobby oct 1911
uncle bill wilson

"Uncle Bill" - Edward Wilson

Forde Cherry Garrard and Wilson with a dead leopard seal on a sled
l to r: Forde, Cherry-Garrard and Wilson
with a dead leopard seal on a sled
Edward Adrian Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers reading the Ramp thermometer, June 7th 1911

Edward Adrian Wilson and Henry Robertson Bowers reading the Ramp thermometer, June 7th 1911

wilson drawing aurora
Wilson drawing the aurora in the hut
shackleton scott wilson 1902

Shackleton, Scott, Wilson
On their South Pole attempt in 1902, they came to withing 480 miles of the pole

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean
The Cape Crozier party
l to r: Henry Robertson Bowers, Edward Wilson, Apsley Cherry-Garrard. This journey was what Cherry-Garrard would later write about in his book "The Worst Journey in the World".
Mealtime while manhauling, l to r Evans, Bowers Wilson, Scott

Mealtime while manhauling
l to r Evans, Bowers Wilson, Scott

Antarctica and the Southern Ocean
The South Pole party l to r: Oates, Bowers, Scott, Wilson, Evans.
18th of Jamuary 1912.

Landmarks named after Edward Wilson

Feature Name: Wilson Hills
Type: range
Latitude: 69°40´S
Longitude: 158°30´E
Description: A group of scattered hills, nunataks and ridges that extend NW-SE for about 70 mi between Matusevich Glacier and Pryor Glacier. Discovered by Lt. H.L.L. Pennell, RN, on the Terra Nova in Feb. 1911 during Scott's last expedition.

Feature Name: Wilson Piedmont Glacier
Type: glacier
Latitude: 77°15´S
Longitude: 163°10´E
Description: A large piedmont glacier extending from Granite Harbor to Marble Point on the coast of Victoria Land. Discovered by the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-04, but not named until the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1910-13.

Feature Name: Cape Wilson
Type: cape
Latitude: 82°14´S
Longitude: 163°47´E
Description: A bold, rocky, snow-covered cape, forming the SE end of the Nash Range and marking the northern entrance point to Shackleton Inlet on the western edge of the Ross Ice Shelf. Discovered by Capt. Robert F. Scott, RN, in December 1902, on his attempted trip to the South Pole. He was accompanied on this trip by Lt. (later Sir) Ernest H. Shackleton, RNR, and Dr. Edward A. Wilson.

Biographical information - I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have is gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.

What are the chances that my ancestor was an unsung part of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration?