Bertram Thomas

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Bertram Sidney Thomas (13 June 1892 – 27 December 1950) was an English diplomat and explorer who is the first documented Westerner to cross the Rub' al Khali (Empty Quarter). He was also a scientist who practiced craniofacial anthropometry.[1]


Bertram Thomas was born in Pill near Bristol[2] and educated at Trinity College, Cambridge.

After working for the Civil Service in the General Post Office, he served in Belgium during World War I before being posted to the Somerset Light Infantry in Mesopotamia (now Iraq) between 1916 and 1918.[3] He worked as an Assistant Political Officer in this country from 1918 to 1922, and Assistant British Representative in Transjordan (now Jordan), from 1922 to 1924. He was appointed as Finance Minister and Wazir to Taimur bin Feisal, the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (now Oman), a post he held from 1925 to 1932.[3] In this capacity, he undertook a number of expeditions into the desert, and became the first European to cross the Rub' al Khali[4] from 1930 and 1931, a journey he recounted in Arabia Felix (1932), in which he described this desert’s animals, inhabitants, and culture.

Besides Arabia Felix, Thomas wrote several other books, including The Arabs: The Epic Life Story of a People Who Have Left Their Deep Impress on the World (London: T. Butterworth, 1930; Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., Inc., 1937).

During World War II, Thomas headed the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in Jerusalem, where British Army officers were taught Arabic language and culture.[5]

He returned to England and died in the house in which he was born, in 1950.

Two species of Omani reptiles are named in his honor, Platyceps thomasi and Uromastyx thomasi.[6]


He was awarded the OBE in 1920 and CMG in 1949.[3] In 1962, he was also awarded the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. One of the Society's most prestigious awards, it is offered for outstanding service of a humanitarian nature with a clear geographical dimension.[7]

Film about Bertram Thomas[edit]

A recent film called Crossing the Empty Quarter was created by the Anglo-Oman Society's Chairman, Richard Muir — the ex-Ambassador to Oman — from footage taken by Thomas on his journey, and photographs from the Library of the Oriental Institute in Cambridge.[8]


  • Arabia Felix (1932)
  • The Arabs: The Epic Life Story of a People Who Have Left Their Deep Impress on the World (London: T. Butterworth, 1930; Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., Inc., 1937)


  1. ^ Explore Saudi Arabia. "Bertram Thomas 1892-1950." 26 September 2007
  2. ^ Ure, John. "Thomas, Bertram Sidney". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 7 August 2008.
  3. ^ a b c "BT Bertram Sidney Thomas (1892-1950), Explorer". Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies. University of Cambridge. Archived from the original on 4 October 2008. Retrieved 7 August 2008.
  4. ^ "Archive collections in the oriental studies faculty library". Cambridge University libraries information bulletin. University of Cambridge. 2003. Archived from the original on 21 May 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-07.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 April 2015. Retrieved 7 April 2015.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Thomas, B.", p. 265).
  7. ^
  8. ^ "About the Expedition". Crossing the Empty Quarter. Retrieved 29 August 2017.