Talk: Edward Adrian Wilson (1872-1912) by Nick Nelson

Date(s) - 30th May 2022

St Philip & St James Church


Although known chiefly as a polar explorer, Edward Adrian Wilson was something of a polymath: ornithologist, natural historian, physician and artist. This illustrated talk is designed to commemorate the 150 years since Wilson’s birth in 1872, and indeed there would be no better place to recognise his multifarious talents than in The Wilson itself.

As a long-standing member of staff at Cheltenham College, Nick Nelson is acutely aware of Wilson’s contributions in the field of science, natural history and polar exploration. In fact, Westal Boarding House at the college is named after his former family home (now the site of Eagle Star Tower). His room at both school and Cambridge was allegedly like a museum, adorned as it was, with bones and skulls.

As a naturalist, Wilson was the first to study the breeding biology of the Emperor penguin, which laid its eggs in the middle of the Antarctic winter. He had a great eye, coupled with a wealth of knowledge; traits which are best illustrated through an anecdote. He had 20 bats in his collection and when working one time from a live model, a flea crawled out of its fur and hopped onto the end of his pencil. Wilson knew immediately it was a rare genus of flea, put it into a tube and it entered the collection of Charles Rothschild. Thus, the focus of this talk partly circumnavigates the fateful Antarctic journey of 1912, and naturally turns to his artistic endeavours instead, achieved in the face of huge adversity. At a temperature of -50°C, during which the pus in his frostbite froze and the enamel on his teeth cracked, Wilson continued to paint, despite sunburn of the eye, snow blindness and frostbitten fingers. He could only work with one eye at a time through the narrow slit in his snow goggles, and only for a few minutes at a time too. Talk about suffering for your art!

Image: Edward Wilson (© SPRI/ Herbert Ponting).

Cost  £10 to include tea/coffee  TIme:  1:30pm

If you have any questions please phone Alison on 01242 519413.

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