Sir James Mann Wordie

Biography of Sir James Mann Wordie

James Mann Wordie was born on the 26th April 1889, in Partick, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, the son of John Wordie, a carting contractor, and Jane Catherine Mann. He studied at Glasgow Academy and obtained a BSc in Geology from the University of Glasgow in 1910.

James also graduated BSc in Geology from St John's College, Cambridge in 1914, and began research work. His occupation brought him in contact with Frank Debenham and Raymond Priestley, who were members of the second Antarctic expedition of Robert Falcon Scott. Wordie's interest in expedition and scientific discovery was heightened by these two men. In 1914, Wordie joined Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition to the Antarctic, known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, where he acted as geologist and chief of scientific staff on the Endurance. Unfortunately, the ship was caught up in the Weddell Sea until destroyed by ice in 1915, and months had been spent in improvised camps on the pack-ice, the expedition reached Elephant Island, where Wordie remained with the main party while Shackleton made his extraordinary open-boat journey to South Georgia for help.

When the expedition returned in late 1916, Wordie joined the Royal Field Artillery and was badly wounded in the left leg at Armentieres, just short of the Franco-Belgian border, in April 1918. The Battle of the Lys was one of the final German offensives of the war and launched in Northern France and Flanders on 9th April. Armentières was assaulted with mustard gas and was abandoned, not re-taken until September 1918.

In 1919 he returned to Cambridge and at once took up polar work again, this time in the Arctic. In the summer of that year and of 1920 he was geologist and second-in-command (to W. S. Bruce) of expeditions to Spitsbergen. Then in 1921 he started his own series of arctic expeditions, which were to extend over nearly two decades.

He was a founder-member of the Committee of Management of the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge, and its Chairman from 1937 to 1955. Wordie was for many years Director of Studies in Geography at Cambridge University and was Master of St John's College (1952-1959), as well as President of the Royal Geographical Society (1951-1954), and Chairman of the British Mountaineering Council (1953-1956).

James Mann Wordie was appointed CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by King George VI and Commander of the Order of St. Olaf of Norway by King Haakon. In 1957 hew was knighted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

James Mann Wordie died on the 16th January 1962, aged 72, at Grange Court, Pinehurst, Grange Road, Cambridge. His ashes are interred in the Wordie family lair at the burial grounds of the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, Scotland.

The Wordie Collection is deposited at the National Library of Scotland.


Sir James Mann Wordie
Born 26 April 1889, Glasgow, Scotland.
Died 16 January 1962.
University Link: Graduate
GU Degrees: BSc, 1910; LLD, 1954;
Honours: Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) , Knight of the Order of the British Empire (KBE)
Additional Information: R3/1/1 (vol 2)
Record last updated: 8th Apr 2015

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