How many explorers?

Henry Morton StanleyWhen I first saw the number of explorers connected with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, I could barely believe my eyes.

Since 1890, the RSGS has been welcoming people like Henry Morton Stanley and Robert Falcon Scott, Neil Armstrong and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.   The Visitors’ Book reads like a who’s who of exploration!   What’s more, when they came to lecture at the Society they were often presented with a medal for their contribution to geographical science.

There are – at the present count – 14 different kinds of medal;   and the combined lists of award holders, along with the Fellows and Presidents, add up to a mind-boggling total that will probably take me more than one lifetime to research and write about.

I began with the Livingstone medallists, and I started at the top, with the most recent;  it seemed logical, and I reckoned that by the time I’d worked my way down to Scott and Shackleton I might have got the hang of it.


Since 1901, the Livingstone medal has been awarded by the RSGS “for outstanding public service in which geography has played an important part, either by exploration, by administration, or in other directions where its principles have been applied to the benefit of the human race.”

Livingstone MedalNamed after David Livingstone, it was endowed by his daughter, Agnes Livingstone Bruce, in 1901.  The medal was designed by the sculptor James Pittendrigh MacGillivray, and bears a portrait of Livingstone on the front;   on the reverse is a depiction of the Spirit of Civilisation bearing the torch of progress and the olive-branch of peace.

There are currently 65 holders of the Livingstone medal, and the list is ever growing!     

Robert Ballard

Robert Ballard“Scientists have barely looked into our own dark abyss.”

One of the first people I wrote about was Dr Robert D Ballard.   I didn’t immediately recognise his name, but I’m never going to forget it now.   Ballard is, in fact, the man responsible for designing the remote-controlled capsule that located the Titanic.  He founded the Inner Space Centre at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography, and his vision and determination have taken our exploration of the world’s oceans to hitherto uncharted regions.   From his research vessel, Nautilus, Ballard can plumb to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet, streaming live images back to scientists all over the world via fibre-optic cable and satellite.

Robert Ballard was awarded the Livingstone Medal in 2001.  There’s a full feature about him in the spring issue of The Geographer, a quarterly magazine free to all members of the RSGS.

In my next post I’ll be talking about an early 20th century explorer whose ancestor correctly predicted what he would do – 240 years before he was born!

Writing about history and landscape at The Hazel Tree ( Writer in Residence at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

5 thoughts on “How many explorers?

  1. Interesting to me that you chose Dr. Ballard. I’ve been following the Nautilus for about a week now ( They are in the area of the Galapagos Islands exploring thermal vents. I love being able to watch what they find when they explore the depths.

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    • That’s a nice coincidence! 🙂 Yes, the Nautilus is such an incredible piece of technology! We are so lucky to be able to get a glimpse of the sea bed in this way. I think, from what Dr Ballard says, that the experience for him is still just as magical – always the excitement of what they will find. He is certainly a man with a vision. Thanks for following, and welcome!


    • That’s quite likely, Lorna – I think he is still in the news quite often as well, with new discoveries. I am certainly brimming with stories! It’s so exciting. 🙂


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