Reginald William James (1891-1964)

Physicist Endurance 1914-17 - 23 at the start of the expedition

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.

Leonard Hussey and Reginald James

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.


    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.

References to Reginald James by Orde-Lees in "Elephant Island and Beyond" buy USA   buy UK

  • James is a good provider of table topics. He is our physicist, magnetician etc, a B.Sc. and really very learned, so we always find it very interesting to discuss scientific things with him, and he always has an answer for every question. Lts Hudson and Greenstreet, the ship's officers, sit next to and opposite him respectively, but sometimes they make such facetious remarks during our scientific discussions that poor Jimmy (James) shuts up as he does not think science compatible with humour.

  • James who has always been reputed of being of rather a quiet temperament fairly took the house by storm with his inimitably excruciating impersonation of a German professor giving a dissertation in broken English on the callory (sic) - the unit of heat - which he insisted was due to the friction produced by a small insect with 'funf tousand hundred and fumfty funf legs'. Being himself a fine German linguist he had no difficulty with his comic malphrasing.
  • Marston, James and I were working down in the hold after extracting cases close by where the water was coming in and down there we could plainly hear the deadly stream of running water below us. Meanwhile the noise of the ship breaking up was deafening.

Other Crew of the Endurance Expedition

Bakewell, William - Able Seaman
Blackborow, Percy - Stowaway (later steward)
Cheetham, Alfred - Third Officer
Clark, Robert S. - Biologist
Crean, Thomas - Second Officer
Green, Charles J. - Cook
Greenstreet, Lionel - First Officer
Holness, Ernest - Fireman/stoker
How, Walter E. - Able Seaman
Hudson, Hubert T. - Navigator
Hurley, James Francis (Frank) - Official Photographer
Hussey, Leonard D. A. - Meteorologist
James, Reginald W. - Physicist
Kerr, A. J. - Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H. - Surgeon
Marston, George E. - Official Artist
McCarthy, Timothy - Able Seaman
McIlroy, Dr. James A. - Surgeon
McLeod, Thomas - Able Seaman
McNish, Henry - Carpenter
Orde-Lees, Thomas  - Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Rickinson, Lewis - First Engineer
Shackleton, Ernest H. - Expedition Leader
Stephenson, William - Fireman/stoker
Vincent, John - Able Seaman
Wild, Frank - Second in Command
Wordie, James M. - Geologist
Worsley, Frank - Captain

Biographical information - I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have will be 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?

Ernest Shackleton Books and Video


South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage - Video

Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002) - Video

Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization - Video

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage - Video
Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface) - Book

South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words

 Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley


biography by Roland

The Quest for Frank Wild, biography by Angie Butler

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

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

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel

Elephant Island and Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees Book
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