Sir Tannatt Edgeworth David (‘The Prof’ or ‘The Professor’, 1858–1934)

Antarctic achievements

TW Edgeworth David's Antarctic involvement spanned four decades; first as a scientist and explorer, and later as a champion for expeditions.

International recognition in the scientific community came early to David. Even before his first visit to Antarctica, he can be credited with influencing Antarctic science. In his book, First on the Antarctic Continent, Norwegian explorer Carsten Borchgrevink acknowledges David's geological research as inspiration for his 1898 scientific expedition.

In 1907, Ernest Shackleton sought his expertise for the Nimrod expedition. David, known as 'The Professor', recruited two of his former students, geologists Douglas Mawson and Leo Cotton. On the expedition, David led the first climbing party to the summit of Mount Erebus, an active volcano. David also led the party, which included Mawson, on the epic four-month journey to the South Magnetic Pole where the men covered 1250 km by dragging laden sledges to achieve their goal.

On his return, while producing scientific reports from the expedition, David provided assistance for Robert Falcon Scott's 1910–13 Terra Nova Expedition. In 1910, David lobbied the Australian government and appealed to philantropists to help fund the first Australian Antarctic expedition led by Mawson. As a member of the Antarctic Committee, he provided advice to Mawson on the expedition's business affairs and the recruitment of expeditioners.

During this time, Japanese explorer Nobu Shirase was readying his Antarctic expedition; an endeavour that met with some opposition in Australia. David befriended Shirase in Sydney, offering support which facilitated Australian acceptance for the 1910–13 Kainan Maru Japanese expedition.

An influential force in Australian geology during his lifetime, David’s leadership and commitment to science were demonstrated during his term as president of the Royal Society of NSW. He was instrumental in the development of the Australian National Research Council.

Awards and honours

David was admitted as a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1900. Awarded the Wollaston medal in 1915 by the Geological Society of London, David was the only Australian resident to this honour. The recipient of numerous honorary doctorates, he was awarded the Meuller medal by the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science.

Several places in Antarctica are named in his honour: David Glacier, David Island, and David Range.

Written by K Quinn