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Reginald William James (1891-1964) - Biographical notes

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The Rookery, the scientific laboratory with Hussey (right) examining the Dimes anemometer and James (left) removing rime from the dip-circle, the electrograph is on the right.

Reginald William James

Physicist Endurance 1914-17

The Endurance Expedition

"Gentle Jimmy" was the expedition's magnetician and physicist. Macklin wrote that he had: "some wonderful electrical machines which none of us understood...and a joke of ours that annoyed him very much was that he did not either."

Like many of the men who were to join the Endurance, James joined almost by accident after hearing about the position from someone else. In his case, he was walking down a Cambridge street while a postgraduate student at the Cavendish laboratory, when a man James had met, but didn't know very well called him from his window and asked if he was interested in going to Antarctica. James gave no as an answer, but was eventually convinced and so his name was given to the Master Christ's College Cambridge, Sir Arthur Shipley who had been asked by Shackleton to recommend scientific staff. Shipley interviewed James and a few weeks later James attended an interview in London with Shackleton.

After 5 minutes, the interview was over - "All that I can clearly remember of it is that I was asked if I had good teeth, if I suffered from varicose veins, and if I could sing."  James was appointed the Expedition's Physicist.


The son of an umbrella maker born at Paddington in London. Reginald James read physics at London and Cambridge Universities.

On return from the Antarctic, James joined the British army and was posted to Ypres in France in the Royal Engineers Sound Ranging Section, after much front-line work was made Captain and Officer in Command of the British Army Sound Ranging School. James played a major part in the development of the technique of Sound Ranging which was a means of calculating the position of enemy guns using microphones to calculate the arrival of the sound.

After the war, James became a lecturer in Physics at Manchester University, becoming senior lecturer in 1921 and reader in experimental physics in 1934. He was gaining a world-wide reputation as an authority in the newly developing technique of X-ray crystallography.

To the great surprise of those who knew him, he announced in 1936 that he was to marry and had applied for the position of Chair of Physics at Cape Town University South Africa. Early in 1937 he moved to South Africa with Annie, his wife where he took up the post. They remained in South Africa for the rest of their lives, they had three children born between 1938 and 1943.

From 1953-57 James was appointed Vice Chancellor and Acting Principal of Cape Town University, in 1955 he was elected a fellow of The Royal Society. He entered semi-retirement in 1958, but lectured part-time basis until 1963. He died in Cape Town on the 7th of July 1964 at the age of 73.

References to Reginald James in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

  • Sunday, January 24, was a clear sunny day, with gentle easterly and southerly breezes. No open water could be seen from the mast-head, but there was a slight water-sky to the west and north-west. "This is the first time for ten days that the wind has varied from north-east and east, and on five of these days it has risen to a gale. Evidently the ice has become firmly packed in this quarter, and we must wait patiently till a southerly gale occurs or currents open the ice. We are drifting slowly. The position to-day was 76° 49 S., 33° 51 W. Worsley and James, working on the floe with a Kew magnetometer, found the variation to be six degrees west."

  • The drift was to the west, and an observation on the 31st (Sunday) showed that the ship had made eight miles during the week. James and Hudson rigged the wireless in the hope of hearing the monthly message from the Falkland Islands. This message would be due about 3.20 a.m. on the following morning, but James was doubtful about hearing anything with our small apparatus at a distance of 1630 miles from the dispatching station. We heard nothing, as a matter of fact, and later efforts were similarly unsuccessful. The conditions would have been difficult even for a station of high power.



Bakewell, William
Able Seaman

Blackborow, Percy
Steward (stowaway)

Cheetham, Alfred
Third Officer

Clark, Robert S.

Crean, Thomas
Second Officer

Green, Charles J.

Greenstreet, Lionel
First Officer

Holness, Ernest

How, Walter E.
Able Seaman

Hudson, Hubert T.

Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Official Photographer

Hussey, Leonard D. A.

James, Reginald W.

Kerr, A. J.
Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.

Marston, George E.
Official Artist

McCarthy, Timothy
Able Seaman

McIlroy, Dr. James A.

McLeod, Thomas
Able Seaman

McNish, Henry

Orde-Lees, Thomas
Motor Expert and Storekeeper

Rickinson, Lewis
First Engineer

Shackleton, Ernest H.
Expedition Leader

Stephenson, William

Vincent, John
Able Seaman

Wild, Frank
Second in Command

Wordie, James M.

Worsley, Frank

Biographical information - This is a difficult area to research, 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?
Recommended Books DVD's and VHS

Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface)
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer
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Free world delivery

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words
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Free world delivery
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
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Free world delivery

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley
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Free world delivery

biography by Roland
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Free world delivery

The Quest for Frank Wild
biography by Angie Butler
Free world delivery

The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander
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Free world delivery

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat
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Free world delivery

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel
   Buy UK
Free world delivery
Tom Crean an Illustrated Life: Unsung Hero of the Scott & Shackleton Expeditions
Tom Crean: Unsung Hero
biography by Michael Smith

Buy USA  Buy UK
Free world delivery
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World -
Jennifer Armstrong
for ages 12 and up
Buy USA    Buy UK
Free world delivery
Movies / Documentaries
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002)
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Shackleton's 1914-17 Trans-Antarctica Expedition on Twitter - follow us now to get the story 100 years to the day later.  @danthewhaler

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Lonely Planet travel guide Antarctica
Buy from Amazon USA USA  |  Buy from Amazon UK UK
Free world delivery

Frozen Planet
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition
Dramatization with original footage

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

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