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James Mann Wordie (1889 - 1962) - Biographical notes

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James Mann Wordie - this picture is in the public domain
Sir James Wordie Polar Crusader: Exploring The Arctic And Antarctic, Michael Smith biographer
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James Mann Wordie

Scientist Endurance 1914-17

The Endurance Expedition

Jock Wordie was an amiable and popular member of the expedition. He was expedition geologist and head of the scientific staff, such was his commitment to the expedition, that he gave Shackleton some of his own money to help buy fuel for the Endurance.

Wordie was recommended to Shackleton for the expedition by Raymond Priestley (later knighted) who had been the geologist with Shackleton on the Nimrod expedition. He was known by the crew for a dry sense of humour and much loved as he was willing to trade his tobacco ration for rock specimens with men who had long since smoked theirs when stranded on Elephant Island.

For Wordie, "The worst part of the whole expedition was the open boat journey to Elephant Island".



James Wordie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and pursued an academic career reading geology at Glasgow University and at St. John's College Cambridge. He visited the Yukon and Alaska in 1913 and by 1914 he had his degree and was working for Cambridge University as a demonstrator in petrology. He had also become a proficient rock climber while in Germany and Switzerland, a skill all the better for a geologist to pursue his interest.

On return to England, he was enrolled as a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery and served with distinction, he was badly wounded in the left leg at the Battle of Armentières.

After the war, Wordie returned to Cambridge and resumed his academic career, initially as a lecturer in Geology. He had a long and very successful career and was the most renowned of all the expedition members for his professional life. He accompanied a number of trips to the Arctic, to Spitzbergen, Baffin Island and Greenland, soon he was leading the trips. Through these expeditions, many students received an introduction to polar fieldwork. He rose to the level of Senior Tutor at St. John's College in 1933 subsequently becoming master of the college.

He was Chairman of the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) from 1937 till 1955, was appointed C.B.E. (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 1947 and gained several other honours from Cambridge University and the wider world culminating in a knighthood in 1957. He was an active and influential member of many British polar committees and a government advisor on polar matters.

James Wordie died on the 16th of January 1962 in Cambridge at the age of 72.


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

  • The afternoon was not without incident. The bergs in the neighbourhood were very large, several being over 200 ft. high, and some of them were firmly aground, showing tidemarks. A barrier-berg bearing north-west appeared to be about 25 miles long. We pushed the ship against a small banded berg, from which Wordie secured several large lumps of biotite granite. While the Endurance was being held slow ahead against the berg a loud crack was heard, and the geologist had to scramble aboard at once.

  • Worsley examined a spot where a killer had smashed a hole 8 ft. by 12 ft. in 12 in. of hard ice, covered by 2 in. of snow. Big blocks of ice had been tossed on to the floe surface. Wordie, engaged in measuring the thickness of young ice, went through to his waist one day just as a killer rose to blow in the adjacent lead. His companions pulled him out hurriedly. y situation; but was not altogether without material. The pebbles found in the penguins were often of considerable interest, and some fragments of rock were brought up from the sea floor with the sounding-lead and the drag-net. On the 7th Wordie and Worsley found some small pebbles, a piece of moss, a perfect bivalve shell, and some dust on a berg fragment, and brought their treasure-trove proudly to the ship.

  • The weather cleared a little, and after lunch we struck camp. I took Rickenson, Kerr, Wordie, and Hudson as a breakdown gang to pioneer a path among the pressure-ridges. Five dog teams followed. Wild's and Hurley's teams were hitched on to the cutter and they started off in splendid style. They needed to be helped only once; indeed fourteen dogs did as well or even better than eighteen men.

  • The quarters in the 'tween decks were completed by the 10th, and the men took possession of the cubicles that had been built. The largest cubicle contained Macklin, McIlroy, Hurley, and Hussey and it was named "The Billabong." Clark and Wordie lived opposite in a room called "Auld Reekie."

  • This penguin's stomach proved to be filled with freshly caught fish up to 10 in. long. Some of the fish were of a coastal or littoral variety. Two more emperors were captured on the following day, and, while Wordie was leading one of them towards the ship, Wild came along with his team. The dogs, uncontrollable in a moment, made a frantic rush for the bird, and were almost upon him when their harness caught upon an ice-pylon, which they had tried to pass on both sides at once. The result was a seething tangle of dogs, traces, and men, and an overturned sled, while the penguin, three yards away, nonchalantly and indifferently surveyed the disturbance. He had never seen anything of the kind before and had no idea at all that the strange disorder might concern him. Several cracks had opened in the neighbourhood of the ship, and the emperor penguins, fat and glossy of plumage, were appearing in considerable numbers. We secured nine of them on May 6, an important addition to our supply of fresh food.

  • Worsley, Hurley, and Wordie made a journey to a big berg, called by us the Rampart Berg, on the 11th. The distance out was 7 miles, and the party covered a total distance of about 17 miles. Hurley took some photographs and Wordie came back rejoicing with a little dust and some moss.

  • The pioneer sledge party, consisting of Wordie, Hussey, Hudson, and myself, carrying picks and shovels, started to break a road through the pressure-ridges for the sledges carrying the boats. The boats, with their gear and the sledges beneath them, weighed each more than a ton. The cutter was smaller than the whaler, but weighed more and was a much more strongly built boat.

  • SEA-ICE NOMENCLATURE - By J. M. WORDIE, M.A. (Cantab.), Lieut. R.F.A.

  • SCIENTIFIC WORK - By J. M. WORDIE, M.A. (Cantab.), Lieut. R.F.A.

Landmarks named after James Wordie

Feature Name: Wordie Ice Shelf
Feature Type: glacier
Latitude: 6915S
Longitude: 06745W
Description: A confluent glacier projecting as an ice shelf into the SE part of Marguerite Bay between Cape Berteaux and Mount Edgell, along the W coast of Antarctic Peninsula. Discovered by the BGLE under Rymill, 1934-37.
Variant Name(s) - Wordie Shelf Ice

Feature Name: Wordie Nunatak
Feature Type: summit
Latitude: 6616S
Longitude: 05131E
Description: Rock outcrop 4 mi SE of Mount Biscoe and 4 mi ENE of Mount Hurley. Discovered in January 1930 by the BANZARE, 1929-31.

Feature Name: Wordie Point
Feature Type: summit
Latitude: 5644S
Longitude: 02715W
Description: The SW point of Visokoi Island in the South Sandwich Islands. Charted in 1930 by DI personnel on the Discovery II.

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?
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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

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

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