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CHRISTOPHER JOHN WILSON (1946-2015)

Edwardawilson.com is sad to announce the death of CHRISTOPHER JOHN WILSON (1946-2015) the Irish naturalist, author and broadcaster, who was one of the better known great nephews of Edward Wilson of the Antarctic, one of Cheltenham’s most famous sons. With his brother, David, Chris worked hard to support The Wilson, the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, which was founded by their Great-grandfather, and recently renamed in honour of the Wilson family. To celebrate the centenary of the death of his famous Antarctic forebear with Captain Scott in 2012, Chris had donated several pictures and other items which had belonged to Edward Wilson, including his christening mug. This later featured in A History of Cheltenham in 100 Objects and is a popular item in The Wilson collections. Even as Chris lay dying, after a short fight with cancer of the pancreas, several boxes of his Wilson family treasures were making their way to The Wilson as a final gift for the people of Cheltenham to enjoy, including Edward Wilson’s signet ring and a wall plaque portrait of Edward Wilson by the famous sculptress, Lady Scott, Captain Scott’s widow. 

Christopher was born in July 1946 at Sevenoaks in Kent and brought up both there and in Ghana, where his father, Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson and his mother, Dr. Mary Wilson were medical pioneers at Achimota, near Accra. He became a London policeman for sixteen years, marrying Ann O'Brien of Tipperary in 1968. They moved to Cashel in Ireland in 1981 where he worked at the Cashel Palace Hotel and also began to record local flora and fauna becoming, through radio and other media, one of the most widely known naturalists in Ireland.

In 1991, he became warden of the Wexford Slobs Wildfowl Reserve until he retired in 2007 to become a Environmental Consultant. On the Slobs, he looked after a large proportion of the world population of Greenland White-fronted Geese each winter. The species had originally been identified by Sir Peter Scott, of Slimbridge fame and the son of Captain Scott. Sir Peter had become a naturalist as a result of the last letter of Captain Scott who had written to his widow “make the boy interested in natural history if you can… “, lines inspired by his friendship with the Cheltenham naturalist Edward Wilson who lay dying by his side. Chris particularly relished this historic connection to his geese and was greatly inspired throughout his life not only by his famous Antarctic great uncle but also by his uncle, David Lack, another leading 20th century ornithologist. In later life Chris’s work on the breeding biology of the Tree Sparrow saw him elected as a Scientific Fellow Christohper John Wilsonof the Zoological Society of London. He also worked on the conservation of the Orange-bellied Parrot in South Australia and looked after the breeding colony of Roseate Terns of Lady’s Island in Wexford.

Chris was the author of several books, particularly on the wildlife of Ireland and co-authored two volumes of his great uncle’s wildlife notebooks with his brother, David. He travelled and lectured widely, particularly on Antarctic cruise ships and campaigned tirelessly, if unsuccessfully, to persuade the Irish Government to sign the Antarctic Treaty. He is survived by his wife Ann but will long be remembered in Cheltenham for his generous and unflinching support of the town, through its Museum, and in Ireland for his considerable contribution to Irish conservation and natural history.

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Current Events and Exhibitions

  • There are a number of relics and paintings connected to the Antarctic expeditions, including the Pole Journey, on permanent display in The Wilson Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Clarence Street, Cheltenham. There is a small Wilson Room dedicated to Edward Wilson of the Antarctic and a considerable display of material relating to Edward Wilson and his family in the Paper Store of the new Open Archive. The Paper Store exhibit is changed on a regular basis to give better public access to The Wilson Family Archive.
  • There are a small number of Edward Wilson's Antarctic relics and artworks connected to the South Pole journey, and other items on permanent display in the Museum of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Rd, Cambridge, UK
  • There are a number of relics connected with Edward Wilson and the British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904 aboard the S.S. Discovery on permanent display at Discovery Point Dundee, UK  
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The Wilson Penguin

In October 2015, The Wilson, Cheltenham’s Art Gallery and Museum, will be welcoming a new resident – a life size bronze Emperor Penguin. The statue, commissioned and funded by the Art Gallery and Museum Development Trust, will be positioned in the foyer to allow visitors to get up close to the penguin. The sculpture will be a first point of introduction for visitors to The Wilson.

The initiative for the commission was to emphasise the brand of The Wilson and to encourage visitors to learn Emperor Penguin, Edward Wilsonmore about Dr. Edward Thomas Wilson, naturalist and founder of the museum, and his more well-known son, Dr. Edward Adrian Wilson.

Dr. Edward Wilson was one of Captain Scott’s key men in the Antarctic. A talented doctor, illustrator and naturalist, Wilson’s observations on the two expeditions have helped to shape our understanding of polar wildlife, in particular the Emperor Penguin, the breeding habits of which were unknown until Wilson returned to the U.K from his first Antarctic trip. When he was writing the fiirst Scientific Report on the breeding habits of the Emperor Penguin, it was to his naturalist father to whom he turned for advice. Wilson made a second attempt to learn more about the breeding biology of the Emperor Penguin during Captain Scott's second expedition, which became known as The Worst Journey in the World.

Wilson’s belongings from his Antarctic adventures are now held in the museum collections at The Wilson, a venue managed by The Cheltenham Trust, and they illustrate the international importance of Wilson’s contributions to Scott’s polar explorations.

Nick Bibby, the sculptor creating the work, is known internationally for creating realistic animals in bronze, and has produced works including familiar British wildlife such as his pheasant and barn owl, plus horses, cattle and other livestock, and from further afield,  a rhinoceros and a life-size Kodiak brown bear, to name a few.

Read more: The Wilson Penguin

There are recent books and other products which feature Edward Wilson. See the site shop for details.