Thursday, 14 July 2016

Royal Geographical Society

Okay, a little disclaimer for this post: I wasn’t feeling too hot that day (not helped by the fact it was super humid!), so I didn’t take too many pictures and my notes are a little choppy.


When we went into the library, there were a bunch of artefacts on the table we sat around. Our guide gave us a quick history of the society before telling us about the items themselves. The society was founded in 1830, and in order to be a member, you had to help gather data. To aid with this, the society eventually purchased a variety of scientific instruments for explorers to borrow. Currently, there are 17,000 members, the majority being academics. The archive holds over a million maps, mostly of places Britain has explored but not restricted to that, 4,000 atlases, many globes, half a million images, 250,000 books as old as the 15th century, a sizeable archive, and a small but extremely popular objects collection.

The majority of the items shown to us were from the 19th century, with some from the 20th. Our guide told us the story of various expeditions to find the Northwest Passage, including Inuit “sunglasses” from 1823, and of Sir John Franklin, whose expedition was lost in the 1840s. His wife prompted the Admiralty to start a search for her husband and the other missing men. McClintock was able to find almost every body during his search, but no ships log or record was found, nor were the ships, which remained missing till the 1980s.

Next, attention went to Central Africa, and finding the source of the Nile River. After Lake Victoria was found, there were quite a few who didn’t believe that the lake was the source. This was eventually proven to be true by an explorer sailing another river, one that many believed to be the Nile, and proving that it didn’t end up in Egypt. We were also told the story of Livingstone and Stanley, and were shown the hats that the two wore during the famous “Mr. Livingstone, I presume” meeting.

Statues of Livingstone and Shackleton on the outside of the RGS building

At the end of the century, focus shifted to the Antarctic, and it was deemed by many to be the most important place to explore. The most interesting thing for me in this section is that all of the instruments were modified to withstand the extreme cold. Everything that was made with brass was changed to be made of ivory. Finally, he finished up with the story of George Mallory, who was almost the first man to climb Mt Everest. It’s a pretty interesting (and not short) story, so I suggest you go look it up, and Sir Edmund Hillary.

I suspect I would have enjoyed everything there a lot more if I had been feeling better!


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