Reginald W. James

Reginald James
Reginald James.png
Reginald William James

(1891-01-09)9 January 1891
Died7 July 1964(1964-07-07) (aged 73)
Alma materSt. John's College, Cambridge
Known forImperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
Spouse(s)Annie Watson
ChildrenJohn Stephen
David William
Margaret Helen Grodner
AwardsFellow of the Royal Society[1]
Polar Medal
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
University of Manchester
University of Cape Town

Reginald William James, FRS[1] (9 January 1891 – 7 July 1964) was a student, researcher, and teacher of physics in England and South Africa.[2] He is best known for his service in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916, for which he was awarded the Silver Polar Medal.[3]

Early Life

James was born on 9 January 1891 in London. After displaying adolescent skills as a maths prodigy, he was awarded a stipend to pursue studies in St. John's College, Cambridge.


James signed on as an expedition naturalist in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, which departed England on the Endurance in August 1914; James had expected to winter over at the expedition's projected base on the Weddell Sea but the ice-beset expedition vessel never made Antarctic landfall and, with the rest of the ship's company, James found himself a castaway. His journal of life on a Weddell Sea ice floe and on Elephant Island survives.[3]

Upon the rescue of the men from Elephant Island in 1916, James found his country fighting World War I. He joined the Royal Engineers, rising to the rank of captain and performing tasks relating to artillery spotting on the Western Front. With the coming of peace, James turned to academia at the University of Manchester. He was a lecturer in 1919, a senior lecturer in 1921, and a Reader in 1934. He specialised in problems of X-ray crystallography.[3]

1936–1937 saw a change in James' personal and professional life. In the first year he married Annie Watson, and in the second year he changed institutions to the University of Cape Town, which offered him the rank of professor. One of his MSc students there was Aaron Klug.[4] His professional career reached culmination in 1953–1957 when he served as Vice-Chancellor of the university. He was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1955.[1][3]

James began the process of his retirement in 1958 and, beset by progressive cardiovascular disease, wound down his teaching duties over the following five years. He died in Cape Town at age 73 on 7 July 1964, and was survived by three children.[3]


  1. ^ a b c Bragg, W. L. (1965). "Reginald William James 1891–1964". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 11: 114–126. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1965.0007.
  2. ^ Ewald, P. P. (1965). "R. W. James". Physics Today. 18: 154. doi:10.1063/1.3047128.
  3. ^ a b c d e John F. Mann (2009). "The Endurance Obituaries: Reginald William James". Archived from the original on 20 April 2013. Retrieved 23 April 2017.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  4. ^ "Aaron Klug – Biographical". Retrieved 8 April 2016.

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