Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger (1910-2003)

View photographs by Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger.

Born in Abyssinia to diplomat parents, Thesiger was a restless explorer who belonged to a bygone generation of nineteenth-century travellers. Whilst his early childhood was in Africa, like many colonial children he was sent back to England for formal education. In 1929, after schooling at Eton, Thesiger was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, returning to Ethiopia in 1930. He worked for the Sudan Political Service in Upper Nile between 1938-40 and was in the Sudan Defence Force during the Abyssinian Campaign 1940-41, the SAS during 1942-43, and was advisor to the Crown Prince of Ethiopia in 1944. During 1945-50 he explored Southern Arabia, twice crossing the Empty Quarter (Rub al Khali) by camel, and living with the Madan in the marshes of Southern Iraq during 1950-58. The journeys across this section of Arabia were recorded by Thesiger in his book Arabian Sands , a classic in British travel literature.

In 1993 the Pitt Rivers Museum held a major exhibition of Thesiger's photographs, then on loan to the Museum. The exhibition was then shown, under the auspices of the British Council, in many of the regions where he traveled and photographed. On Thesiger's death in 2003 the Museum received his extraordinary collection of 25,000 photographs permanently in lieu of inheritance tax. Many of his photographs have appeared in his several books of travel as well as an autobiography, The Life of My Choice (London: Harper Collins 1987) as well as an autobiographical anthology that appeared just after his death, My Life and Travels (London: Harper Collins 2003).

Scope of the Collection:

414 (35mm) film negatives, taken during Thesiger's service as Assistant District Commissioner in Western Nuerland in Upper Nile Province, mostly dating between 1938 and 1940. As is evident in many of the images, hunting was a significant activity for Thesiger during his service among the western Nuer, the meat being given to his numerous porters and the local community.

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
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