Raymond Priestley

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Sir Raymond Edward Priestley (20 July 1886 – 24 June 1974) was a British geologist and early Antarctic explorer. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

Biography[edit]

Raymond Priestley was born in Bredon's Norton,[1]Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, in 1886, the second son and second of eight children of Joseph Edward Priestley, headmaster of Tewkesbury grammar school, and his wife, Henrietta Rice. He was educated at his father's school and taught there for a year before reading geology at University College, Bristol (1905–07).

Antarctic Expeditions[edit]

He had just completed his second year of studies when he enlisted as a geologist for Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition (1907–09) to Antarctica. There he worked closely with renowned geologists (Sir) Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson, also members of the expedition. Priestley collected mineral and lichen samples from the region including islands in the Ross Sea, the North face of the Mount Erebus volcano, and mountains near the Ferrar Glacier. He was part of the advance team that laid the food and fuel depots for Shackleton's nearly successful attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole in 1909. In a November 1908 expedition, due to a lack of space in a tent, Priestley spent three days of a blizzard sleeping outside in his sleeping bag. As the blizzard raged, he slowly slipped down the glacier and nearly fell off its end to his death. On his return from the expedition, he spent four months in England before returning to Sydney, Australia, to work with Edgeworth David on the geological report, eventually published in 1914.

Priestley returned to the Antarctic as a member of Robert Falcon Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), after being recruited by Scott when the Terra Nova arrived in Sydney. Three weeks after landing at Cape Evans in January 1911, Priestley and five others departed in the expedition ship, the Terra Nova to explore and carry out scientific work in King Edward VII land to the east under the leadership of Victor Campbell. Unable to find a suitable landing site, they decided to return West with the intention of landing at the Bay of Whales but arriving on 3 February 1911 they encountered Roald Amundsen's ship Fram and his expedition already camped there. Unwilling to establish a camp so close to the Norwegians, Campbell decided to explore the coastline of Victoria Land instead. After returning to Cape Evans and reporting Amundsen's location to Scott, they set off North to Victoria Land where they established a hut near Carsten Borchgrevink's 1898 site at Cape Adare. In January 1912, the six man party was taken 200 miles farther south by the Terra Nova to Terra Nova Bay, midway between Cape Evans and Cape Adare, for summer fieldwork. They had provisions for eight weeks but their tents were badly damaged by a gale and the Terra Nova was unable to penetrate the ice pack and pick up the party as arranged. Realising that they would have to winter where they were, they excavated a small 12 foot by 9 foot ice cave in a snow drift and remained there in the shelter they nicknamed "Inexpressible Island" for almost 7 months until the end of the Austral winter, supplementing their meagre rations with seal and penguin. With two of the party weak from enteritis, they left their temporary home on 30 September 1912 and walked for five weeks, fortuitously finding a cache of food and fuel along the way which had been left by the expedition's western party the previous year. They eventually arrived safely back at Cape Evans on 7 November 1912, only to be informed that Scott and the entire Polar party had perished months earlier.

During World War I, Priestley served as adjutant at the Wireless Training Centre (1914–17), then with the 46th (North Midland) Divisional Signal Company R.E. in France. He was involved in the taking of the Riqueval Bridge, part of the Hindenburg line, by the 137th Infantry Brigade and was awarded the Military Cross.

Post War Career[edit]

After World War One, he was a Major, commanding the 46th (North Midland) Divisional Signal Company R.E. from 1917-19. He was seconded to the War Office in 1919 to write the history of the signal service. His research and thesis on glaciers in the Antarctic earned him a BA (Research) at Cambridge in 1920. The same year, he co-founded, with fellow Terra Nova expedition member Frank Debenham, the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge. In 1922, Priestley was elected fellow of Clare College. In 1924 he joined the university's administrative staff, becoming concurrently assistant registrar, secretary to the board of research studies and secretary-general of the faculties. From the 1930s until his retirement, he held a series of academic and government administrative posts in Australia and England. He was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne from 1935 until resigning in 1938 on a matter of principle after one of several confrontations with the Chancellor. He returned to Britain to be Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham (1938–52). After retirement in 1952, he served as Chairman of the Royal Commission on the Civil Service from 1953–55 and deputy Director of the former Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (later called the British Antarctic Survey) from 1955–58 and was president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1956). He revisited Antarctica in 1956 and 1959 and was President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1961–63. Priestley was knighted in 1949.

He married Phyllis Mary Boyd (d.1961) in April 1915.

He was the brother-in-law of fellow Terra Nova expedition members C.S. Wright and Thomas Griffith Taylor.

He died, aged 87, on 24 June 1974 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, survived by his two daughters.

Items from Priestley are in the collection of Tewkesbury Borough Museum.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Museum's artefacts suffering from cold. thisisdorset.co.uk 11 November 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2011.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Charles Grant Robertson
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham
1938-1952
Succeeded by
Humphrey Francis Humphreys