Observed on paper Drawings and watercolours from the Collections of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

By the mid-nineteenth century, the camera began to be seen as an important addition to expedition equipment – a new and important method of observation – however, reliability proved an issue as timing exposures and developing glass plate negatives was often difficult in unfamiliar terrain or climate conditions. Sketching with pencil, pen and watercolour often remained the best option, both for its immediacy and the limited kit required to achieve results.

Created by men and women who were largely amateur artists and for whom their skills were learnt in other arenas as scientists, engineers, surgeons, architects and map makers, the sketches and drawings shown also demonstrate the evolution of the role of illustration in scientific reports and published accounts of travels, some being reproduced for the first time in the Society’s own publications.

In many cases, the works are the output of expeditions organised or supported by the Society and undertaken by its Fellows or those closely associated with its primary objective: to advance geographical knowledge.

Delicate, fragile and impermanent, all of the original works form part of the Society's wider Collections which comprise two million items, including maps, photographs, archives and artefacts spanning over 500 years of geographical science and history.

The works in this exhibition are shown in chronological order. The earliest illustrate people and landscapes at a time decades before the camera became available for use by those undertaking scientific research and exploration in the field.


'White Marble Mosque at Baber’s Tomb, Kabul'

Godfrey T. Vigne (1801-1863)

Watercolour, 22 x 29 cm, rgs024189

Following his call to the Bar in 1824, Godfrey Vigne’s wanderlust took him on extensive travels around the world, documenting the people and places that he encountered in a sequence of accomplished sketches and watercolours. Vigne also wrote detailed accounts of his travels, published in the Society’s Geographical Journal, books, newspaper and magazine articles. It was always his intention to have a selection of his artwork reproduced to illustrate these texts.

"I was very happy to hear from the Nawab [of Kabu] that I might go where I pleased, sketch where I pleased and make myself quite at home."

From Vigne's A personal narrative of a visit to Ghuzni, Kabul and Afghanistan, 1843.

The most important of his travels took place from 1832 onwards, when for seven years he explored north-west India and travelled to Kashmir, Ladak and other areas of Central Asia. On this journey he spent much time in Afghanistan, where he is thought to have been the first English person to travel to Kabul.

Vigne’s images and written observations are important as a record of these regions before the impact of the British Empire and form a valuable and detailed record of architectural and landscape features now lost or significantly changed.

The Society holds 76 of Vigne’s watercolours in its Collections.


'Strollin’ musicians in the streets of Bogotá, by moonlight'

Joseph Brown (1802-1874)

Watercolour, 21 x 29 cm, rgs234171

The Society’s Collections include a series of striking watercolour paintings attributed to Joseph Brown, a British trader, who lived in Colombia between 1826 and 1841. Brown was one of the first English travellers in Colombia to document the landscapes, people and places that he encountered during two visits to the country.

The sketches are not solely Brown’s work but also the result of collaboration with local artists, depicting scenes and portraits in and around Bogotá. Brown is known to have collaborated with the Castillo brothers (who coloured some of Brown’s drawings) and the artist José Manuel Groot.

"This lovely country, with its tropical vegetation, its grand cordilleras, and its famed volcanic mountains, is really easy to visit as India; and as regards the language, the traveller would always find the necessary Spanish easy to learn, whilst in the towns he would meet with plenty of people speaking English and French."

Robert Blake White, Brown’s contemporary, from Notes on the Central Provinces of Colombia, 1883.

Together, they present one of the earliest and significant collections of paintings of everyday life in Colombia. While some of the paintings appear to have been presented by Brown to members of his family as souvenirs, others were clearly intended for publication, probably in a book of picturesque scenes of the kind that were increasingly popular in Europe during this period.

Today, these remarkable paintings and sketches provide an unparalleled, pre-photographic visual record of Colombia, its landscape and its people.


'Interior of an Abyssinian House, Shoa'

Rupert Kirk (1807-1852)

Watercolour, 17 x 26 cm, rgs021660

In 1842 naval officer Rupert Kirk was selected to join the British Embassy to Sahela Selassie, the King of Shoa – present-day Shewa in Ethiopia, led by Captain William Cornwallis Harris. The artist formally commissioned to document the visit was the German landscape painter Johann Martin Bernatz (1802-1878).

However, as a naval surgeon, Kirk was also trained and skilled in drawing and sketching, with equal ability to hold steady a scalpel and a paintbrush. As a by-product of the mission, Kirk created his own series of remarkable sketches of the Red Sea coastline of present-day Yemen and the landscapes of Ethiopia, including many which provide us with a first detailed record of interiors from the pre-photographic age.

Comparing and contrasting images by Kirk and Bernatz, it becomes clear that on several occasions the two men chose to sketch and paint their subjects from exactly the same viewpoints.

Kirk’s death at Bombay on the 31 May 1852 was announced in The Medical Times and Gazette. A set of lithographs of Bernatz’s drawings from their journey was published in London that year as Scenes of Ethiopia.


'A night scene at our encampment on the Altin-Kool, Altai Mountains'

Thomas Witlam Atkinson (1799-1861)

Watercolour, 60 x 88 cm, rgs700114

The explorers Thomas and Lucy Atkinson (1817-1893) spent seven years, from 1848 to 1853, travelling in Siberia and Central Asia, reaching many locations previously unseen by Europeans.

Atkinson, also a prolific architect, artist and writer, documented their remarkable journey of over 40,000 miles across the Steppe, whilst Lucy wrote her own account in Recollections of Tartar Steppes and their inhabitants, published after Thomas’s death in 1861. Their journey was made all the more remarkable by the fact that the couple travelled with their son Alatau Tamchiboulac Atkinson, who was born on 4 November 1848 at Kapal, a village in present-day Kazakhstan.

"He was obliged to be strapped on his horse; and it was rather fatiguing for him to be seated so many hours as he sometimes was. When sleep overtook him, we were obliged to carry him, which we did in turns."

Lucy Atkinson recalled how resilient their son, Alatau, was to travel in Recollections of the Tartar Steppes, published in 1863.

In addition to his detailed and accurate journals, Atkinson sketched and created watercolour and oil paintings, the finest of which were reproduced in his books. This watercolour painting was the result of Atkinson’s preparatory sketches.

Such was the contemporary interest in Siberia generated by the couple’s travels that across Europe Thomas Atkinson’s images and text were often plagiarised by other writers and artists, without reference or financial recompense.


'The Golden Gate in the Durbar'

Dr. H. A. Oldfield (1822-1871)

Watercolour, 28 x 38 cm, rgs022722

Henry Ambrose Oldfield was appointed as physician to the British Residency in Kathmandu between 1850 and 1863, which coincided with the first years of the reign of Jang Bahadur Rana. At the time, the British Resident was Brian Houghton Hodgson who was a pioneering naturalist and ethnologist.

Oldfield's watercolours are amongst the first seen in the West, most often illustrating secular subjects and provide important reference points for the architecture of the Kathmandu valley at that time. Sketches from Nepal was first published in 1880.

Oldfield’s work was so accurate that it has helped to guide some recent restoration projects in Nepal.


'From Chile to the Arctic'

John Linton Palmer (1848-1874)

Watercolour sketches from album no.4, titled From Chile to the Arctic, 52 x 34 cm, rgs016938 - rgs016942

John Linton Palmer’s naval career involved tours of duty in the Pacific on board a number of Royal Naval ships between 1850 and 1868. Like many naval surgeons, he developed an interest in natural history and ethnography. A skilled artist, his copiously annotated albums include sketches made in Pitcairn Island, Rapa Nui, Tahiti, China, Chile, Panama, Vancouver Island and the Bering Strait. During his lifetime he also created sketches and watercolours around the British Isles, as well as collecting photographs and making maps.

Linton Palmer’s sketches of Pacific North-West Coast Indian and Inuit peoples, and their artefacts, reveal a highly developed interest in the detail of material cultures, providing a unique, pre-photographic record of the people and places he encountered.

Reproduced here is one of twelve continuous pages from Linton Palmer’s fourth volume, these pages include 32 sketches from his voyages to the Pacific North West Coast of America and Alaska on HMS Portland and HMS Amphitrite, in 1851-53. Dating from around 1851, the portraits of named individuals, artefacts and habitations on Vancouver Island, in particular, offer important new evidence concerning the geography and ethnography of the region at a very significant moment in the relations between settlers and First Peoples. Linton Palmer made careful notes to describe the people and places that he recorded.

The complete set of 10 albums, made by Linton Palmer are now housed at the Society.


Tree sequence from the Journals of John Hanning Speke

John Hanning Speke (1827-1864)

Watercolours, 18 x 23cm: No. 19 Kapok Tree, rgs004217; No. 20 Kapok Tree, rgs004218; No. 18 Baobab Tree, rgs004216; No. 16 Baobab Tree, rgs004213

As an East India Company Army officer, John Hanning Speke undertook military duties in India before making three expeditions to Africa, initially in the company of Richard Francis Burton. Speke first joined Burton’s expedition to Somaliland in 1855, before embarking with Burton on their 1856-1859 expedition in search of the source of the Nile, supported financially by the Royal Geographical Society.

The two men were accompanied and supported by Sidi Mubarak Bombay, Speke’s guide with whom he conversed in Hindi – their only shared language. Guided by Sidi, Speke would be the first European to see the lake he was to name after Britain’s Queen. Lake Victoria became the focus of Speke’s theory that this was indeed the source of the Nile.

Speke was not only a skilled surveyor and map-maker but also a diligent observer of the flora and fauna of the landscapes through which he travelled. In India, he had used his service leave to explore in the Himalayas, collecting plant and other specimens. The Society holds a fine collection of Speke’s illustrated African journals, which include many examples of individual tree specimens. Speke took great care to document sub-species, as he saw them, numbering each sketch with a number linked to his location at the time that he completed his field sketch. Following the success of the expedition in mapping the interior of Africa, once more funded by the Society, Speke returned with James Augustus Grant (amid much dispute with Burton), on a second and final expedition to Lake Victoria where he successfully identified the source of the Nile at the Ripon Falls.

His sketches provide us with much valuable information about the landscapes of Africa at that time.


Sketch of the Victoria Falls

Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873)

Watercolour sketch, 12 x 15 cm, rgs213421

A map-maker of exceptional skill, whose three expeditions to Africa were supported by the Society, David Livingstone’s pictographic sketch of the Victoria Falls has become an icon for the Society’s 19th century collection.

On his second visit in 1860, with brother Charles and Sir John Kirk, the expedition’s botanist and a keen photographer, Livingstone was able to make a detailed observation of the falls of ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ – ‘The Smoke which Thunders’, as named in the Bantu language of Kololo and which Livingstone had chosen to name in English as the ‘Victoria Falls’ in 1855.

Having completed this evocative sketch, in his dispatches to the Society, Livingstone wrote, rather modestly, that:

"After a second visit, I think the scene the most remarkable in the world, and none but an artist in oil colours could convey a true idea of it …"

Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 31 (1861) pp. 256-296.

The Society has a significant collection of original Livingstone maps, artefacts, archive material and other items linked to its involvement with one of the major anti-slavery champions of the nineteenth century.


African camp, with Sir Samuel and Lady Florence Baker

Sir Samuel Baker (1821-1893)

Watercolour, 18 x 25 cm, K213095

Baker was born in London and educated partly in England and partly in Germany. His father was a West India Company merchant and at first Baker was to follow in his footsteps but, after a brief mercantile career, he proved totally unsuited to the life.

After the death of Baker’s first wife Henrietta in 1855 he went on a journey to Constantinople and the Crimea where he supervised the construction of a railway connecting the Danube with the Black Sea. During this trip he happened to visit an Ottoman slave auction where he rescued a young woman named Florence, thought to have been an Austro-Hungarian refugee, who eventually became Baker’s second wife.

In 1861 he undertook his first expedition to Africa to attempt to find the source of the Nile. He met Speke and Grant at Gondokoro in early 1863 and upon hearing that they had confirmed the source of the Nile as Lake Victoria he was very disappointed, but Speke and Grant told him of a large as yet unexplored lake which Baker went on to explore and name Lake Albert. On his return to England he was much feted and in 1866 he was knighted and received the Society’s Gold Medal for his "vigorous explorations in the interior of Africa".

Uniquely, Baker, a keen amateur artist, recorded his African travels in an extensive sequence of watercolours which, whilst naive in style, successfully document the people and places he and his wife encountered.

Today, the Society’s Collections house over 46 examples of Baker’s artwork.


‘Thomas Baines, self-portrait, sketching around Lake Ngami’

Thomas Baines (1822-1875)

Pencil sketch, 27 x 38 cm, rgs212670

In 1858, following success on expeditions in southern Africa and Australia, Thomas Baines, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, was appointed as artist on Dr David Livingstone’s Zambezi expedition. Baines was one of the first artists to comment on the use of the new medium of photography:

"Some who aspire to more exactitude of detail than an artist can hope for in a hasty sketch may wish to practice photography … but unless the traveler possesses … chemical knowledge enough to contend successfully against the various contingencies of changing climate … we are inclined to think that the pencil, … will afford, if not the best, at least the most certainly available results."

Thomas Baines

By character, Baines was a resourceful and entrepreneurial figure, by contrast, Livingstone sought expedition members who would not interfere with, or disrupt his plans.

A disagreement between the two men began when Livingstone complained in his correspondence that Baines had "made away with [our] supplies of paper", which may simply reflect the prodigious nature of Baines’ prolific output as an artist.

The rift grew and there was a terrible dispute. Livingstone accused Baines of "bare-faced impudent forgery" when store records could not be reconciled. In his own defence, Baines stated:

"Just imagine yourself worn down in body and mind by constant fever and conscious that you were being exposed to constant persecution and misrepresentation while at the same time charges and accusations which were never made openly to your face were being conveyed against you to the Commander."


‘Dacca Water Works’

Henry Bridges Molesworth, (1855-1954)

Watercolour, 13 x 18 cm, rgs015039

Born in 1855, Henry Molesworth’s artistic skills as an accomplished watercolourist enhanced his professional career as an engineer in preparing documents and reports recording the geographical features he encountered.

Molesworth, in later life the co-author of the important Molesworth’s Pocket Book Engineering Formulae and Memoranda for Civil and Mechanical Engineers (in its 24th edition by 1903), began life as a naval cadet in 1869. In 1870-73 he was recorded as serving on board HMS Raleigh, for which he created a sketchbook to add to the ship’s log in his capacity as midshipsman.

In 1873 he was appointed as an assistant engineer to the Public Works Department in India where he worked until he returned to England in 1894. During over twenty years, Molesworth documented the landscapes he saw in a series of watercolours and sketchbooks, including the 'Dacca Water Works' which he visited in 1877 during the final period of construction. The works were opened for public use in May 1878.

The success of the works, intended to supply fresh drinking water to the wider population of Dacca, was limited by the costs of extending the mains beyond a small initial area, work which was completed in 1893 when approximately two-thirds of the population, some 70,000 people, then had access to a mains water supply.

The Society holds a wider collection of watercolours and sketchbook illustrations by Molesworth, including early images of Bangladesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Yemen.


‘A Sikh Sentry, Fort Johnston, Nyasaland’

H.H. Johnston (1858-1927)

Watercolour, 29 x 22 cm, rgs021514

‘Harry’ Hamilton Johnston was a British explorer and botanist who travelled throughout Europe and Africa during his lifetime. He collected samples of flora and fauna whilst on his expeditions and also painted pictures and took photographs of the places he had visited. An accomplished artist, Johnston had studied art at the Royal Academy before embarking on his diplomatic career. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1883.

Johnston completed this watercolour whilst a colonial administrator in East Africa. Recruitment to the British Indian Army was a significant feature of the Punjab under the British. The British selected soldiers who could protect their state, many Sikhs had proved their battle skills during the Anglo Sikh Wars (1845-1846 and 1848-1849) and although a comparatively small community, they featured heavily in the army. During British rule many soldiers were posted abroad as part of their duties, this image shows a sentry at Fort Johnston in Malawi.

Johnston later travelled in the Caribbean at the request of US President Theodore Roosevelt, who asked Johnston to find out more about Cuba and the other Caribbean islands. His documentary photographs, taken between 1899 and 1910, provide an important source of research material. His wider collection of maps, papers, reports, photographs and drawings are held at the Society.


Caricatures from the ‘South Polar Times’

Various artists

Watercolours, 25 x 20 cm, rgs334423. Clockwise from top left: 'Skelly' R.W. Skelton, Engineer; 'Our Junior Scientist'H.T. Ferrar, Junior Scientist; 'Mr Frostbites'Michael Barne, Second Lieutenant; 'The Parsenger'E.H. Shackleton, Third Lieutenant

The South Polar Times was produced monthly during Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British National Antarctic Expedition; the naval officer and his country’s first scientific expedition to the continent. It was a continuation of the existing Arctic naval tradition; that of the in-house magazine or newspaper.

First created in Antarctica over the winters of 1902-3, it served as a diversion from the boredom engendered by months of darkness and enforced captivity in the winter sea-ice of McMurdo Sound. Robert Falcon Scott appointed “Mr Shackleton as editor to guide its destiny” – Ernest Shackleton being Scott’s third lieutenant on the expedition.

"… the most amusing, instructive, up-to-date journal with the largest circulation of any periodical within the Antarctic Circle …" 

Lieut. Albert B. Armitage, RNR, ‘The Pilot’

Editors in later years were physicist L.C. Bernacchi and Apsley Cherry-Garrard, assistant biologist on Scott’s second, Terra Nova, expedition. It was decided that the journal should “give instruction as well as amusement”, combining scientific papers with poems, humorous stories and acrostic puzzles. Its production was democratic, with men as well as the officers invited to contribute.

Ship’s carpenter Frederick E. Dailey made a wooden ‘post-box’ to encourage anonymous donations. Visual content included watercolours, pen & ink diagrams, pencil sketches and caricatures. The Society holds volumes from Captain Scott’s personal set, donated by his widow.


‘Emperor Penguins and their chick’

E. A. Wilson (1872-1912)

Watercolour, 17 x 9 cm, rgs021325c

Edward Adrian Wilson was a medical doctor, scientist, naturalist and Antarctic explorer. He was appointed junior surgeon by Commander Robert Falcon Scott, R.N., on the Discovery expedition. Owing to the customary good health on modern polar expeditions Wilson's medical duties were light, and he was able to devote his time to zoological research and to the preparation of many striking paintings of Antarctic scenery.

His researches into the habits and breeding of Emperor penguins were of special importance. In the summer of 1901-1902 Wilson took part with Scott and Shackleton in the southward sledge journey over the ice barrier to what is now known as Cape Wilson, on the edge of the plateau, the highest latitude reached. After the return of the expedition to England, Wilson prepared the monograph on the mammals and birds observed and collected. In addition to his watercolours and scientific drawings, Wilson, as principal artist, regularly contributed fine work to the South Polar Times on board Scott’s two expeditions.

Wilson died during the British Antarctic Expedition (1910-13) or Terra Nova expedition, on the return journey from the South Pole with Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans. He received the Polar medal (1904) and posthumously the Society’s Patron's Medal (1913). The Society houses 21 of Wilson’s finest watercolours and sketches in its Collections.

‘Wilson was a man of many parts. He was Scott's right-hand man, he was the expedition's Chief of the Scientific Staff: he was a doctor of St. George's Hospital, and a zoologist specializing in vertebrates ... But those who knew him best will probably remember Wilson by his water-colour paintings rather than by any other form of his many-sided work’

Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World, 1922


‘McKay and Wild play chess’

George Marston (1882-1940)

Pencil sketch, 16 x 24 cm, rgs022525

As official artist on Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition (1907-09), better known as the Nimrod expedition, Marston successfully captured the concentration and stillness of this scene with a pencil sketch of Alistair Forbes McKay, the expedition’s doctor (left) and Frank Wild (right), who was in charge of provisions, engrossed in a game of chess. Wild joined five expeditions to the Antarctic and is best known perhaps for serving as second-in-command on Shackleton’s Endurance expedition of 1914-16. Marston, who had studied art at the Regent Street Polytechnic, now the University of Westminster, also accompanied Shackleton on his later Endurance expedition.

Marston contributed lithographs of his work for inclusion in Aurora Australis, the first book ever printed in Antarctica, unlike Scott's single-copy South Polar Times of 1902-3, which was manually typed and illustrated. A limited number of Aurora Australis copies were produced during the Antarctic winter of 1908.

James Murray, the expedition’s biologist commented on the difficulties faced by the artist and printmaker:

"I do not pretend to know the nature of the special difficulties that the climate introduced into lithography, but I know this, that frequently I’ve seen Marston do everything right— clean, ink, press— but for some obscure reason the prints did not come out right. And I’ve seen him during a whole night pull off half a dozen wrong ones for one good print, and he did not use so much language over it as might have been expected."

James Murray

c. 1909

Pencil sketches of pottery fragments and architectural detail, Samarra, Iraq

Gertrude Bell (1868-1926)

Pencil sketch from Notebook 11, 17 x 25 cm, rgs213290

Born in County Durham, England, into a wealthy family, Bell attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, graduating with a first in Modern History; with a brilliant intellect, she continued to excel in all that she cared to do. Bell’s privileged background and connections also enabled her to maximise the opportunities to travel as a woman in the Edwardian era. By the age of twenty-nine, she had experienced the world by steamship and developed her skills as a mountaineer, climbing Mont Blanc in the Alps. But it was her first visit to the Middle East in 1900, to Jerusalem, which established the future direction of her studies and led to her extraordinary experiences as one of the first European women to live and work in the Arab World at the start of the twentieth century.

From 1909 onwards her work was focussed on Mesopotamia, where Bell initially crossed the Syrian Desert from Aleppo and travelled down the Euphrates to Baghdad and then north up the Tigris to Turkey, during which time she further developed her eye for detail and started the series of journals and notebooks in which she recorded her architectural and archaeological observations. Bell had also taken lessons in cartography at the Royal Geographical Society and produced a number of sketch maps, some of which are still housed at the Society, along with a collection of over 600 of her photographs and fifteen notebooks which include detailed floorplans and architectural details.

Bell’s legacy included the foundation of what would later become the Baghdad Archaeological Museum. She supervised excavations and examined finds and artefacts, insisting that the artefacts found should not be transported to Europe but should remain in Iraq for the benefit of the Iraqi peoples. The museum opened in June 1926, in the month before Bell’s tragic death from an overdose of a prescribed sedative on the 12th July, just two days before her 58th birthday.


‘The Makhra valley early morning, nearing the Dongouzgouroun Pass [Caucasus mountains]’

Mrs Margaret A. Chambers (fl. 1912-1928)

Watercolour, 16 x 10 cm, rgs025475

Margaret Chambers, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society from 1913-1928. In 1911, she undertook an expedition to the High Caucasus where she spent many months in Georgia exploring the mountains of Svaneti in the north-west of the country and in particular the region of Chazhashi, the medieval fortified village which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Chambers meticulously recorded her observations in notebooks, drawing and painting in watercolours throughout her journey.

Her resulting archive, The Lure of the Caucasus: sketches in prose and paint of travels under the old regime, 1912-13 is now housed in the Society’s Collections and provides early evidence for the structure and layout of architecture in the region.


Positional Sketch of Easter Island Moai

Katherine Routledge (1866-1935)

Watercolour, pen and ink, 35 x 55 cm, rgs213511

In 1910 Katherine Routledge and her husband, William Scoresby Routledge, first began to think of travelling to Easter Island and conducting fieldwork there. Although earlier European visitors to the islands had commented on and often drawn or painted the moai, by 1910 there had still been no serious scientific study of the famous statues, and to both Katherine and Scoresby this presented an opportunity.

After extensive preparations in the UK, including the construction of a specially fitted out ship named the Mana, long hours spent researching at the British Museum and at the Royal Geographical Society, where Scoresby was a Fellow, and the loan of instruments from the Society, the expedition departed from Falmouth in March 1913. They would be away from England for three years, returning home in 1916 in the midst of the First World War.

Arriving at Easter Island on 29 March 1914, Katherine immediately began preparations for her planned programme of fieldwork. Throughout the project, she worked closely with Juan Tepano, the headman of Hanga Roa village, who assisted Katherine as interpreter, protector, collaborator, and friend.

As well as surveying, sketching, and photographing the moai, and the carvings upon them, Katherine also carried out extensive ethnographic interviews with the inhabitants of the island, preserving much of their culture which might otherwise have been lost. In this, she was particularly aided by Tepano, whose high social status on the island helped her to forge connections with the local people.

As contemporary Easter Island expert Dr Jo Anne Van Tilburg comments, although many of Katherine’s conclusions have subsequently been shown to be incorrect, her extensive fieldwork laid the foundations for the modern study of the island’s archaeology and ethnography.


‘Sketches of the Hut on Elephant Island’

Reginald William James (1891-1964)

Pen and ink drawings on lantern slides (made c. 1916, later transferred and reproduced on glass, c. 1919), 6 x 8 cm, rgs213511

Reginald James was the physicist selected by Sir Ernest Shackleton as part of the scientific party on board his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-16), better known today as the Endurance expedition.

Following the destruction of the ship Endurance in the Weddell Sea, James was one of a group of twenty-two men who remained on Elephant Island from April to August 1916, whilst Shackleton and a crew of five set-sail in the James Caird to raise the alarm and seek rescue. James created these pen sketches to illustrate the cramped and foetid conditions inside the ‘Hut’ or ‘Sty’, the home of the men for five months, made by overturning the two remaining small boats.

"The peculiar conditions handicapped scientific work considerably, nevertheless some valuable results were obtained. Two hundred miles of new coast line were mapped; a chain of soundings was extended across the Weddell Sea; and much interesting work done on the natural history of sea-ice."

From a paper read by James and first illustrated by his slides to the Manchester Literary & Philosophical Society, January 6th, 1920.

On his return home, Reginald James gave regular public talks illustrated with slides, largely using the remarkable photographic images taken by Frank Hurley, the official photographer to the expedition. However, he made sure to include these very personal sketches to convey the extreme conditions that the men had endured.

These unique slides were donated to the Society by James’s family in 2015 to mark the centenary of the Endurance expedition.


‘Sketch of a Polar Bear’

Dr. Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930)

Pencil sketch, 20 x 23 cm, rgs701019

In 1891 Nansen was awarded the Royal Geographical Society’s Gold Medal "for having been the first to cross the inland ice of Greenland … as well as for his qualities as a scientific geographer".

Following his voyage on board the Fram, Nansen was considered to be a national hero in Norway whilst his popular account of the expedition Farthest North became an international bestseller. The data gathered during the expedition provided new assessments of the geography and geology of the Arctic Circle.

"Something white emerged from the blackness. It grew larger and larger, and gleamed still more white against a backdrop as black as night ..."

Nansen describing his first sight of Arctic pack ice in 1893, as he sketched.

Following the First World War, Nansen’s career changed path as a distinguished diplomat, he championed the rights of displaced peoples around the world, both as a Commissioner for the League of Nations and as an emissary of the Norwegian Government.

Although he used his camera to document his expeditions, Nansen was also well-known for his proficiency as a draughtsman and always travelled with a sketchbook and paintbox. This pen and ink drawing by Nansen, depicting one of his favourite subjects, is representative of his style. Made for Sir Charles Webster, a British historian and diplomat and his wife, it was dedicated to them "with hearty good wishes for Christmas and the New Year from Fridtjof Nansen, Dec. 1927".


‘Thunder Storms in the Weeping Valley, Kokoda, Papua’

Miss L. E. Cheesman, OBE (1881-1969)

Watercolour, 17 x 25cm, rgs022416

Lucy Evelyn Cheesman was an entomologist who undertook a series of expeditions to the south-west Pacific in the 1920s, 1930s and late 1940s, carrying out the first systematic studies of the insect life of the islands that she visited.

Cheesman studied under Harold Maxwell Lefroy at Imperial College London, before taking up the post of Assistant Curator of Insects at the Zoological Society of London in 1917, where she was made the first female Insect House Curator in 1920. Her new role included increasing the size of the ZSL collections and broadcasting children’s programmes on the new BBC radio services.

In 1924 Cheesman took part in her first overseas expedition to the South Pacific sailing as part of the RGS-supported St George Expedition. This had been organised as a scientific pleasure cruise, with both paying passengers and a team of scientists on board. Cheesman was one of the expedition’s entomologists.

Cheesman left the St George at Tahiti in order to undertake extensive entomological research on the island, collecting around 500 specimens in the course of dangerous treks across the interior of Tahiti and the other Society Islands. On her return to England Cheesman took up an unpaid post with the natural history division of the British Museum (what is now the Natural History Museum (NHM) in South Kensington). Here she catalogued the insect collections, including specimens brought back from her own expeditions, teaching herself taxonomy in order to carry out this work. Cheesman contributed over 70,000 specimens to the NHM collection.

Over the next thirty years she undertook a series of solo expeditions to the southwest Pacific, visiting the New Hebrides, Papua New Guinea, and other islands in the Pacific. She forged strong relationships with the islanders which allowed her to range widely and collect the insects which so fascinated her.

Cheesman sketched, took photographs, and painted watercolours of the local landscapes; several of these now reside in the Society’s Collections.


‘Amazon by Night’

A. Victor Coverley-Price (1901-1988)

Watercolour, 16 x 25 cm, rgs023458

Graduating from Cambridge in 1925, Coverley-Price joined the Foreign Office, which enabled him to embrace his dual passions of travel and art. In 1932, he was invited by Arthur R Hinks, then the Secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, to join Professor J.W. Gregory as an interpreter on his forthcoming expedition to Peru which was supported by the Society.

The expedition’s aim was chiefly concerned with geological exploration of three distinct areas; the coastal cordillera of Peru, the central section of the Peruvian Andes and the eastern face of the Andes into the Amazon basin. Tragically, Professor Gregory met his death during the expedition when he was swept downriver after his canoe capsized on the powerful Urubamba River in Peru.

Coverley-Price, his paintings and the majority of the scientific reports and material from the expedition survived the accident. In his autobiography, An Artist Among Mountains, he described how, following the accident:

"I laid out all my sketches in the afternoon sunshine, for most of them were very damp. My clothes dried slowly on me: all my kit had been lost."

A. Victor Coverley-Price

Over 150 watercolours from the expedition were exhibited at the Society in 1933.

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A selection of photographic enlargements of the works shown can also be purchased from the Society's Print Store.

The Society is grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund and Rolex for their support for the Society’s Collections.

Exhibition curated by Alasdair MacLeod and Jools Cole with Joy Wheeler. Digital Exhibition created by Hania Sosnowska

All images © Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)