Wordie Collection


Wordie Collection


This collection of works on Arctic and Antarctic exploration was formed by Sir James Mann Wordie CBE FRSE LLD (1889-1962), explorer and scholar, Master of St John's College, Cambridge (1952-1959). Wordie was born in Glasgow and studied geology at Glasgow University and Cambridge. He joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition to the Antarctic, known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1916), where he acted as geologist and chief of scientific staff. He was one of the men rescued from Elephant Island in the Southern Ocean by Shackleton in 1916, after the expedition's ship 'Endurance' had been crushed in the pack ice. He would go on to make a further eight polar expeditions, with the Wordie Ice Shelf in Antarctica being named in his honour. Wordie later served as chairman of the Scott Polar Research Institute and president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1951 to 1954. The collection contains over 4,600 printed items, comprising books, journals (including runs of foreign journals such as 'Meddelelser om Grønland'), around 2,000 pamphlets and 16 maps. The collection includes not only technical reports of scientific expeditions, and the results of polar research, but also popular accounts of travel and exploration, whale-fishing and folklore. Mostly published during the period 1850-1940, by far the greater part of the collection is in English, but there are works in German, French, Scandinavian, Dutch, Spanish (chiefly Argentine publications), and a few other languages. The earliest work is a description of Spitsbergen from 1613 'Histoire du pays nomme Spitsberghe' (Amsterdam, 1613), followed by the second edition of 'Purchas his pilgrimage' (1614), and there are around 60 works published in the 18th century. There is also a copy of the magnificent photographically illustrated book by William Bradford, 'The Arctic regions: illustrated with photographs taken on an art expedition to Greenland' (London, 1873). Wordie's bookplate includes cartwheels symbolising his family's haulage business and the motto in Scots "He yt tholis overcommis" (he that bears, or perseveres, overcomes). The Library has continued to acquire material on the Polar Regions, particularly works relating to discovery and exploration, under the terms of the Graham Brown bequest (see Graham Brown Collection).


The books have been catalogued individually and have the shelfmark 'Wordie.'.


The collection was presented by Sir James Wordie to the Library in 1959 along with 68 volumes of correspondence and papers, many concerned with the Colonial Office's Discovery Committee.

Related collections

The manuscripts are held at MSS.9501-9568. They are described and indexed in Volume 8 of the Library's Catalogue of manuscripts. Further acquisitions of Wordie's papers have been made since 1959.

The maps are held in the Library's map collections.


'Shelf catalogue of the Wordie Collection of Polar Exploration', Boston, 1964.




Polar studies and exploration


Voyages and travels