Helen Wallis

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Helen Margaret Wallis OBE (17 August 1924 – 7 February 1995) was the Map Curator at the British Museum (afterwards the British Library) from 1967 to 1987.[1]


Born at Dunkery, Park Road, Barnet on 17 August 1924, Wallis was the daughter of Leonard Francis Wallis (1880–1965), headmaster, and Mary McCulloch Jones (1884–1957), teacher.[2] She attended St Paul's Girls' School (1934–43) and studied geography at St Hugh's College, Oxford (1945–1954), where she completed her D.Phil. degree in 1954 with a thesis 'The exploration of the South Sea, 1519 to 1644'.[2]

In 1951, she was appointed assistant to R.A. Skelton, superintendent of the Map Room at the British Museum, succeeding him in 1967.[citation needed] She was the first woman to hold the post. In 1968 she was responsible for the acquisition of the map collection of the Royal United Services Institution. She also discovered the earliest version of England's first globe, by Emery Molyneux and thought to date from 1592, at Petworth House.[citation needed]

She was the chairman of the standing commission on the history of cartography of the International Cartographic Association.[citation needed] In 1986, she became president of the International Map Collectors' Society and she was a founder of The Geography and Map Section of the International Federation of Library Associations. She served as President of The Society for Nautical Research, 1972–1988, and President of the British Cartographic Society. She was appointed OBE in the 1986 Birthday Honours.[citation needed]

Key publications include Carteret's voyage round the world, 1766–1769,[3] Cartographical innovations,[4] and the Historians' guide to early British maps.[5]

She retired from the British Library in 1986, then died of cancer on 7 February 1995 at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John's Wood, London.[2] An obituary written by W.R. Mead appeared in The Independent, 14 February 1995. Another obituary was published in the IFLA Journal.[6]

Honours and awards[edit]


  1. ^ Sarah Tyacke (2019). "Helen Margaret Wallis, 1924-1995". In Elizabeth Baigent; André Reyes Novaes (eds.). Geographers: Biobibliographical Studies. Vol. 38. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-350-12799-9.
  2. ^ a b c d Tony Campbell (2004). "Helen Margaret Wallis, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/57148. Retrieved 15 October 2013. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Wallis, Helen (1965). Carteret's voyage round the world, 1766-1769. Cambridge: Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press. pp. 2 v.
  4. ^ Cartographical innovations : an international handbook of mapping terms to 1900. [Tring, Herts]: Published by Map Collector Publications in association with the International Cartographic Association. 1987. pp. xx, 353. ISBN 0906430046.
  5. ^ Historians' guide to early British maps: a guide to the location of pre-1900 maps of the British Isles preserved in the United Kingdom and Ireland. London: Royal Historical Society. 1994. pp. ix, 465. ISBN 0861931416.
  6. ^ IFLA Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1995, ISSN 0340-0352, p. 154.
  7. ^ "The British Cartographic Society: The Awards > The Society Medal". Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  8. ^ "Medals and Awards Recipients 1970-2007" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 26 June 2009.
  9. ^ E. F. GUERITZ (1986). "Miscellany: DR HELEN WALLIS, O.B.E., F.S.A.". The Mariner's Mirror. 72 (3): 241. doi:10.1080/00253359.1986.10656090.