Frank Debenham

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Frank Debenham in 1911 in Antarctica

Frank Debenham , OBE (born December 26, 1883 in Bowral , New South Wales , † November 23, 1965 in Cambridge ) was an Australian geologist, geographer and polar explorer. From 1910 to 1913 he took part in the Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica . In later years he lectured as a professor of geography at the University of Cambridge and was the first director of the Scott Polar Research Institute located there .


Debenham was born in 1883 as the younger twin and third child of Reverend John Willmott Debenham and his wife Edith (née Cleveland). He first attended the school run by his father and later moved to King's School in Parramatta , where he was best of the year in the scientific and athletic subjects. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy from the University of Sydney and then became a teacher at the Anglican Armidale School in New South Wales.

In 1908 he returned to the university and studied geology with Edgeworth David . From 1910 to 1913 he was part of a group of three geologists who took part in Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova expedition to Antarctica. From January to March 1911 explored and mapped Debenham together with Thomas Griffith Taylor (1880-1963), the physicist Charles Seymour Wright (1887-1975) and Edgar Evans the mountains in western Victoria Land ("Geological West Group"). He did not take part in Scott's tragically ending trip to the South Pole because he had previously sustained a knee injury while playing football in the snow. Instead, he explored the region around Granite Harbor with Taylor, Tryggve Gran and Robert Forde (1875-1959) . After returning from Antarctica in 1913, he went to the University of Cambridge to evaluate his field studies.

During World War I he was a lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry . He served in France and at Salonika and was seriously wounded in August 1916. In January 1917 he married Dorothy Lucy Lempriere. He left the army with the rank of major after the armistice and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. In the same year he went back to Cambridge, where he became a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College and Lecturer in Geography. In 1920 he founded the Scott Polar Research Institute with Raymond Priestley , for which he received surpluses from public donations for the members of Scott's pole team. At the institute, scientific results of British expeditions should be evaluated and future expeditions prepared and supported by experienced polar researchers. Debenham had the idea for such a training center back in 1912 during his Antarctic expedition. He was honorary director of the institute from 1920 to 1946. In this position he made the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, together with Priestley and James Wordie , a participant in Ernest Shackleton's endurance expedition , the leading center for polar research in Great Britain.

In 1931 Debenham was appointed to the chair of geography at the University of Cambridge. During the Second World War he trained officer cadets, gave lectures for navigators of the Royal Air Force and invented techniques for creating terrain models for the instruction of command units .

After the war, he became Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society (1951-1953), having received the Society's Victoria Medal in 1948 . Frank Debenham died in Cambridge at the age of 81, leaving behind his widow, son and four daughters.

According to Frank Debenham, the Debenham Glacier ( 77 ° 10 ′  S , 162 ° 38 ′  E ), the Debenham Islands ( 68 ° 8 ′  S , 67 ° 7 ′  W ) and Debenham Peak ( 67 ° 21 ′  S , 50 ° 26 ′  E ) in Antarctica.

Publications (selection)

  • In the Antarctic: Stories of Scott's Last Expedition. 1952.
  • Antarctica - The story of a continent (Ger. Antarctica - history of a continent. Translation by Oskar Müller edited by Gretel Hess and Rudolf Kühn. Copress-Verlag, 1959).
  • Discovery & Exploration. 1960.
  • Kalahari sand. Bell, 1953.
  • Nyasaland.
  • The way to Ilala.
  • Study of African Swamp.
  • Simple surveying.
  • The use of geography.
  • Map making. Blackie & Son, London and Glasgow, 1942.
  • The World is Round (dt. The world is round , Droemer / Knaur 1959)
  • Space - The Global Atlas.


  • June Debenham (Ed.): The Quiet Land - The Diaries of Frank Debenham. Bluntisham Books, Huntingdon 1992, ISBN 1-85297-037-5 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ GP Walsh: Debenham, Frank (1883-1965) . In: Australian Dictionary of Biography . tape 13 . Melbourne University Press, 1993, pp. 602-603 . , English