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    James M. Wordie

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0931                                                                                                                  

    (J. M. Scott)


            James (Mann) Wordie, C.B.E.M.A. (1889- ), one of the most experienced

    and scholarly of modern polar explorers, has traveled widely both in the Arctic

    and the Antarctic. James Wordie was born in Glasgow, the second son of John

    and Jane (Mann) Wordie. He was educated at Glasgow Academy and Glasgow and

    Cambridge universities. His first experience of the Arctic was a visit to the

    Yukon and Yakutat Bay, Alaska, which followed the International Geological

    Conference at Toronto in 1913.

            Wordie was geologist and chief of the scientific staff of Shackleton's

    1914-16 Antarctic Expedition. He was a member of the Weddell Sea party and,

    after the loss of the Endurance and after living for six months on drifting

    pack ice, wintered on Elephant Island. Returning to Europe, he became a lieu–

    tenant in the Royal Field Artillery in 1917-18.

            In 1919, Wordie returned to polar exploration, this time to the Arctic

    as geologist and second-in-command of the Scottish Spitsbergen Syndicate expe–

    ditions of 1919 and 1920, initiated by Dr. W. S. Bruce. Wordie made geological

    surveys in Spitsbergen in the Stor Fjord region and on Prince Charles Foreland,

    climbing Mount Monaco in the course of his work. His general results were con–

    tained in a paper read to the Royal Geographical Society in which he describes

    the complicated tectonic problems on Prince Charles Foreland and the compara–

    tively undisturbed history of the Stor Fjord region. The weather of the

    002      |      Vol_XV-0932                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J.M. Wordie

    former is almost as boisterous as the latter is sedate. Wordie discusses

    the glacier types and the widespread glacier retreat, and by contrast the

    possibilities of coal mining development on a large scale. His companions

    and assistants were recruited from geological students at the Scottish uni–

    versities. He has stressed the importance of his experience gained in the

    Antarctic before taking up Arctic work, and the very great advantage of

    intimate knowledge of both regions.

            In 1921, Wordie led a small summer expedition of Cambridge men to Jan

    Mayen. The plan had been originated by J.L. Chaworth-Musters and was

    carried out in conjunction, as far as sea transport was concerned, with

    Hagbard Ekerold, who was setting up a Norwegian radio weather station on the

    island. The other members of the party were Richmond Brown, W.S. Bristowe,

    T.C. Lethbridge and Prof. P. L. Mercanton. The Jan Mayen expedition was the first of the Cambridge Arctic expeditions,

    just as Binney's visit to Spitsbergen in the same year was the first of the

    Oxford expeditions.

            The voyage to and from Jan Mayen was made in the 24-ton sealer Polarfront .

    Wordie, with Mercanton and Lethbridge, made the first ascent of the extinct

    volcano Beerenberg, originally named Mount Hakluyt, the height of which they

    corrected, by controlled aneroid readings, to 8,090 ft. (A more recent measure–

    ment makes the height 7,450 ft.) Botanical, zoological, glaciological, and

    geological work was intensively carried on during the party's stay on the island.

    Bristowe made a notable collection of spiders, and Musters found many plant

    species new to the island. The geological work was mainly concerned with the

    two questions, the age at which the island was first formed and how long since

    Beerenberg had ceased to be an active volcano. One may briefly summarize

    Wordie's cautious deductions by saying that the island is probably of very

    003      |      Vol_XV-0933                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J.M. Wordie

    recent geological date, while Seerenberg itself has certainly not erupted

    in historical times. The last very minor ash eruption was that seen by

    Scoresby near Vogt (Esk) crater in 1818. Apart from the unusually large

    amount of driftwood and other jetsam to be found on its coast, Wordie con–

    sidered Jan Mayen has no commercial value; its usefulness lies in the site

    it offers for a weather station.

            Wordie had long been attracted to the incompletely known regions of

    Northeast Greenland, and to this end the Jan Mayen expedition was a stepping–

    stone. His first Greenland attempt was in 1923, when he led a Cambridge

    expedition in the Norwegian sealing sloop Heimen , consisting of Lord Cawdor,

    H. E. David, Lt. C. C. Duchesne, R.E., T. C. Lethbridge, Lt. R. H. Maclaren,R.E.,

    and L. S. Mayne. The idea was to reach Franz Josef Fjord and the coast which

    may have been Hudson's Hold with Hope, discovered in 1607, just as Jan Mayen

    may have been "Hudson's Tutches." The sea-ice conditions were extremely un–

    favorable and thick pack ice barred the coast. The ship was nipped and lifted

    bodily on to the ice. She narrowly escaped disaster and a repetition of the

    shipwreck of the Endurance in the Antarctic, and the attempt to reach Greenland

    that year had to be abandoned.

            In 1926, however, a second attempt succeeded. Wordie's party con–

    sisted of M. A. Barnett, radio, J.H. Bell, camp stores and equipment, C. de

    Bunsen and A. Courtauld, cameras and survey, D. McI. Johnson, Eskimo archaeology

    and doctor, G. Manley, geodesy and survey, and Lt. P. F. White, R.E., surveyor.

            The party sailed from Aberdeen on June 30 in the coal-burning sealing

    sloop Heimland of 152 tons gross, with Lars Jacobsen of T r omeö (who had com–

    manded the smaller Heimen in 1923) as captain, and made contact with the radio

    station on Jan Mayen. Then, in foggy weather and after a blind but rapid

    passage through very open pack ice, anchor was dropped, still in fog, on the

    004      |      Vol_XV-0934                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J.M. Wordie

    south side of what proved to be Little Pendulum Island. One of the objects

    of the expedition was to repeat Sabine's pendulum experiments made in 1823,

    when Clavering in the Griper first discovered this part of the East Greenland

    coast. While Manley made pendulum observations on the site where Captain

    Sabine had made his gravity experiments one hundred and three years earlier,

    the rest of the party sailed through Clavering Strait to Cape Berlin. Various

    landings were made for geological and archaeological purposes and Mount

    Huhnerberg was climbed. On the summit Courtauld found a record left by

    Prof. Copeland of the Germania expedition on the same day and month in 1870.

    Manley's longitude observations gave no support to the idea of continental

    drift and the claim that Greenland had movedwestward since either Sabine's

    time or Copeland's later determinations of longitude.

            Next, Clavering's survey of Gael Hamke Bay was extended and completed.

    His work was found to be of remarkable accuracy, although for some reason the

    great, broad Jordanhill Glacier, which Koch has since named the Wordie Glacier,

    was shown on his map as open water. Wordie's party penetrated new ground and

    discovered Granta Fjord to the west of Clavering Island. Working in separate

    parties, the survey was extended to Loch Fyne and Jackson Island. Meanwhile

    thorough archaeological examinations were being made and many old Eskimo sites

    were found. It will be remembeeed that Clavering was the only man to record

    seeing living Exkimos in this region, in fact, anywhere on the east coast

    north of Angmagssalik. The winter houses of Clavering's Eskimos were found

    by Johnson at Eskimo Bay, on the south side of Clavering Island. From their

    observations, wordie and Johnson decided that there must have been an immigra–

    tion of these Eskimos by a route round the very north of Greenland, a view

    the reverse of that held by Knud Rasmussen.

            At the beginning of August, the hundred-mile-long stretch of Franz Josef

    005      |      Vol_XV-0935                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J.M. Wordie

    Fjord was entered for the first time since the original discovery in 1899.

    The party were impressed by the warm weather and the strikingly rich vege–

    tation. The surveyors climbed peaks at the head of this remarkable fjord,

    and sighted but could not reach Petermann Peak in the short time available.

    Before leaving Franz Josef Fjord the ship penetrated to the head of the

    tributary Musk Ox Fjord, to tie in with the Loch Fyne Survey. The most

    important geological discovery was the finding in Andr e é e Land of overthrust–

    ing of older rocks and the evidence of Caled onian mountain building on a

    very large scale.

            The ship turned southward from the mouth of Fran s z Josef Fjord and,

    working night and day, a plane-table survey of the outer coast was carried

    to Davy Sound. A difficult and interesting part of this hiehterto hitherto unsurveyed

    and unexplored coast was to reconcile what was seen at close quarters with

    the features named on William Scoresby Junior's map, made in 1822 from some

    thirtymiles offshore. In every case it was found that Scoresby's capes

    represent high mountains standing well back from the coast. The survey was

    concluded at Cape Simpson on Davy Sound, where Scoresby had found an abandoned

    Eskimo settlement of unusual type. Before returning to Scotland the party

    visited the newly established Eskimo colony at Scoresby Sound.

            Wordie returned to the same area of Northeast Greenland in 1929 with

    the object of enlarging the field both of topographical and geological survey

    and also, if possible, of climbing Petermann Peak. His ship was again the

    Heimland , but with Karl Jacobsen as captain, and his party was as follows:

    A. Courtauld and R. C. Wakefield, surveyors; P. de K. Dykes, radio; V. S.

    Forbes, geographer; .V. E. Fuchs, M.M. L. Parkinson, and W.F. Whittard,

    geologists; and J. F. Varley, medical officer.

    Unpaginated      |      Vol_XV-0936                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J.M. Wordie

            The passage through the pack ice was not made quickly or without

    anxious moments, the ship being several times nipped by the pack ice, and

    the rudder damaged. But after nearly a month of struggle in ice as heavy

    and close as in 1923, Franz Josef Fjord was entered on August 5. Because

    of this delay, the land work had to be pressed forward at an even greater

    pressure than is usual on summer expeditions.

            The most spectacular achievement was the climbing of Petermann Peak.

    The climbing party consisted of Wordie, Wakefield, Courtauld, Fuchs, Varley,

    and Forbes. The main difficulty lay in finding a route from Kjerulf Fjord

    to the mountain in the short time available, carrying not only food and camp

    gear but also survey equipment. After making a survey of the Cambridge Peaks,

    the party marched westward along the watershed south of the Nordenskiöld

    Glacier, which flows into the head of Franz Josef Fjord, and down the Ptarmi–

    gan Glaciers to lower levels. Then the great Nordenskiöld Glacier was crossed.

    The Petermann summit was reached by Wordie, Wakefield, and Forbes on August 15,

    nine days after the start of the overland trip. The height, by corrected

    aneroid and boiling point readings, was found to be 9,650 ft. The return

    journey to the coast was accomplished without incident.

            The important geological discoveries made during the 1926 expedition

    were extended by Whittard and Parkinson while the mountain expedition just

    described was in progress. Caledonian folding on [ ?] large scale was found,

    and the thrust of the Franz Josef Beds over the underlying Metamorphic Complex

    determined. In 1926 a major thrust had been located and examined at Junction

    Valley on Andres Land, about 4 miles N.N.W. across Franz Josef Fjord from

    Cape Mohn. In 1929 the region south of Franz Josef Fjord was examined down

    to Antarctic Harbor in Davy Sound.

            The In 1929 expedition completed a trio directed to Northeast Greenland;

    008      |      Vol_XV-0937                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie

    the first had been turned back by the polar ice current, but the latter two had

    both done good work. For his next two expeditions Wordie was now to turn his

    attention to Northwest Greenland and the Canadian Arctic.

            On May 24, 1934, he sailed from Aberdeen in the Heimen , a recently

    built oil-driven vessel of 129 tons gross, with Lars Jacobsen again as skipper

    and a crew of ten and the following scientific party: P. D. Baird, surveyor

    and geologist; C. T. Dalgety and H. P. Hanham, ornithologists; Lt. W. E. Fletcher,

    R.N., navigator; Sir John Hanham, botanist; Dr. T. G. Longstaff, medical officer

    and zoologist; T. T. Paterson, geologist and archaeologist; H.M.W. Ritchie,


            The first object of the expedition was to cross Melville Bay and to reach

    Cape York in June, during the nesting season, and later to cross to Ellesmere

    Island. For the first part of the program an unusually early start and speed

    were essential. All went well as far as Upernivik, the most northerly settle–

    ment in West Greenland which can be reached with certainty early in the season.

    Navigation beyond varies considerably from year to year, and in 1934 the ice

    broke up late after a long cold winter. The party were held up at Upernivik

    for ten days, passing the time in geological and ethnological work; Paterson

    made a collection of about 30 string figures. They also climbed Sanderson's

    Hope (3,560 ft.), from which it was possible to reconnoiter the extent of the

    pack ice ahead.

            After further delays at Nutarmiut and at the Duck Islands (which were

    surveyed), the Heimen reached the entrance to Melville Bay [ ?] on July 7.

    But here the party was held up for the remainder of the month by unbroken

    winter ice which barred the way northward. This was a month beyond the usual

    date of crossing Melville Bay by Dundee whalers in the nineties. Like them,

    009      |      Vol_XV-0938                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie

    Wordie had hoped to push his ship across the bay in June.

            The most spectacular achievement during the long delay was the climb–

    ing of the Devil's Thumb by Longstaff and Baird. The ascent of this remark–

    able landmark, a 600-foot flake of gneiss projecting, to all appearances,

    vertically from a steep 1,200-foot shoulder of the same rock, was technically

    described by these two experienced climbers as more than "difficult" and less

    than "severe."

            After failing to cross to Cape York and Ellesmere Island, Wordie decided

    early in August, as the main objective could not now be realized, to retreat

    to Upernivik and cross south of the "Middle Ice" to Baffin Island. This was

    done, and the remainder of the expedition's time was spent in exploring and

    charting Eglinton Fjord and Clyde Inlet. From a high peak Baird and Ritchie

    discovered a hitherto unknown icecap in central Baffin Island. At the end of

    August, after three months of continuous activity, the ship turned for home,

    arriving in Aberdeen on September 15.

            It will be remembered that in the course of the expedition just described

    Wordie had been induced to make a radical change of plans, unbroken winter ice

    in Melville Bay making a visit to Cape York and Ellesmere Island only possible

    so late in the season as to be of little value. The alternative program in

    Baffin Island had been valuable enough in itself, but Wordie, who has never

    been satisfied with half-success, decided to return to the same area in 1937.

    His party was as follows: H.I. Drever, petrologist; E. G. Dymond, physicist;

    R.W. Feachem, assistant surveyor; I.M. Hunter, radio; E.D.W. Leaf, assistant

    archaeologist; T. C. Lethbridge, archaeologist; T.T. Paterson, geologist;

    A. H. Robin, surveyor.

            He sailed from Leith on June 27 in the Norwegian motor sealing vessel

    010      |      Vol_XV-0939                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie

    Isbjorn of 177 tons, with Bergerson as captain. Since on this occasion

    there was no intention of crossing Melville Bay to reach Cape York in the

    nesting season, an early start was not necessary and advantage could be taken

    of the improved late summer sea ice conditions. But, as fate would have it,

    this particular year was so remarkably ice-free compared with 1934 that the

    geographical part of the program could probably have been carried out much

    earlier in the season. Very briefly, the Isbjorn's course was north along

    the coast of West Greenland, with stops at Godhavn, N u û gssuak, the Ryder Islands,

    and Thule, and then across Smith Sound to Cape Sabine and Bache Peninsula;

    then southward by the east coasts of Ellesmere Island and Baffin Island as

    far as the newly discovered Cambridge Gulf; then southeastward across Baffin

    Bay to Godhavn, and so home.

            Mapping and charting was carried out at the little-known Cary Islands,

    but the most important geographical discoveries were on the Baffin Island

    coast around Cambridge Gulf, between latitudes 71° and 72° 30′ N., where a

    deep fjord system with 600 miles of new coast line was explored and mapped.

    Six fjords up to 60 miles in length cut southwestward through a high mountain

    land to lower levels. The fjord walls were up to 3,000 ft. in height, but

    above was an old land plateau or peneplain, covered in places by icecaps

    which spilled down the fjord walls in numerous cascading and valley glaciers.

    The outer fringe of this newly discovered region had been frequented by

    Dundee whalers in the latter part of the 19th century, and wrecks and wreckage

    were frequently found, as well as traces of occasional recent visits by Eskimos.

            The geologists made important discoveries at N u û gssuak and Ubekjendt

    Island. Interesting work was also done on the Thule Sandstone at the base

    of the Cambrian system.

            The main archaeological investigations were made at Turnstone Beach in

    011      |      Vol_XV-0940                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie

    Buchanan Bay, Ellesmere Island. Attempts were being made to locate Eskimo

    remains on the route by which they must have originally reached Greenland.

    The open year gave exceptional opportunities, and the digging of old sites

    yielded rich results. In the course of the digging an unexpected find was

    the discovery of Dr. Cook's winter quarters in an abandoned Eskimo hut at

    Cape Hardy (Cape Sparbo) in Jones Sound.

            The most original and interesting scientific work was that concerned

    with cosmic ray investigations. To assist this unusual work with balloons,

    the Royal Society had made a special grant of £ 800, and the Physics Depart–

    ments at both Cambridge and Edinburgh universities had also contributed. The

    Geomagnetic Pole (Magnetic Axis Pole) being to the east of Smith Sound, about

    two degrees north of Thule, the course of the Isbjorn offered valuable


            Observations were made by apparatus lifted on balloons to exceptionally

    high levels. Two different types of apparatus were used. Carmichael had

    designed and constructed one in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. This

    consisted of a light-weight ionization chamber with electroscope and a small

    camera which recorded the latter at work, the air pressure and temperature

    being also recorded on the slowly revolving film. Recovery of the apparatus

    was obviously necessary at the conclusion of the flight. Dymond's apparatus

    was a triple-coincidence Geiger counter set with wireless transmission both

    of the counts and the barometric pressure. Thus recovery was not essential.

    Both types of apparatus were lifted by a pair of balloons and parachutes.

    One of the former would collapse at the extreme altitude of the observations,

    leaving the remaining balloon to descend slowly with the apparatus and the

    steadying parachutes.

            Six successful flights were made. Two of these proved particularly

    012      |      Vol_XV-0941                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie

    valuable, one with the wireless apparatus to a height of over 12 miles in

    magnetic latitude 88, and [ ?] the other with the lighter ionization appara–

    tus in magnetic latitude 75 to a height of about 18 miles. It was found

    rather unexpectedly that cosmic radiation near the Magnetic Axis Pole is not

    very much stronger than at lower magnetic latitudes. Some twenty pilot-balloon

    flights were also made to heights of between 12 and 20 miles (20 to 30 kms.).

            Since 1937 Wordie has so far made one further journey to the polar regions,

    this time to the Antarctic. In January and February, 1947, under the auspices

    of the Colonial Office, he visited the South Orkneys, South Shetlands, and

    Graham Land to advise on the program of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.

            Wordie is one of the outstanding British figures in all matters which

    concern both the Arctic and the Antarctic. His experiences have been acknow–

    ledged by the Royal Geographical Society's Back Award in 1920, by the Founders'

    Gold Medal in 1933; the Bruce Medal of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1926,

    and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Gold Medal in 1944.

            He is also well read in polar history and a specialist in glaciology

    and geology. His post as Senior Tutor and Fellow of St. John's College,

    Cambridge, has enabled him to assist and influence many young explorers,

    notably Gino Watkins. He has been Honorary Secretary of the Royal Geographical

    Society from 1934 to 1948, and is now Foreign Secretary; he has served on the

    Mount Everest Committee, on the Discovery Committee of the Colonial Office

    since 1923, and is chairman of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Scientific

    Committee. He has been chairman of the Scott Polar Research Institute since

    1936. He is vice president of the British Glaciological Society and a member

    of the Alpine Club. These numerous and varied duties show how extensively

    his wide and gently expressed influence is felt in all that concerns the

    polar regions.

    013      |      Vol_XV-0942                                                                                                                  
    EA-Biog. Scott: J. M. Wordie


    J. M. Wordie. "Present-day Conditions in Spitsbergen," Geog.Journ . Vol.58,

    N.1, July 1921.

    ----. "Jan Mayen Island," Geog. Journ ., Vol.59, N.3, March 1922.

    ----. "The Cambridge Expedition to East Greenland in 1926," Geog.Journ .,

    Vol.70, N.3, Sept. 1927.

    ----. " [ ?] Cambridge East Greenland Expedition, 1929: Ascent of Petermann

    Peak," Geog.Journ ., Vol.75, N.6, June 1930.

    ----. " [ ?] An Expedition to Melville Bay and North-East Baffin Land,"

    Geog. Journ ., Vol.86, N.4, Oct. 1935.

    ----. "An Expedition to North West Greenland and the Canadian Arctic in 1937,"

    Geog. Journ ., Vol.92, N.5, Nov. 1938.

    ----. "The North West Passage since the last Franklin Expedition," Geog.Journ. ,

    No.106, Nov-Dec. 1945.


    J. M. Scott

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