Papers and correspondence of Lawrence Rickard Wager, 1904-1965

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Biographical and personal papers include a little material from Wager's schooldays and his early notebooks of natural history and geological observations. His later appointments and applications for posts are also recorded. Expeditions and research material is by far the most extensive in the collection. It is presented alphabetically by territory, East Greenland being the first as well as the most important. The organisation and logistics of expeditions, especially the 1935-1936 East Greenland expedition led by Wager, are chronicled in detail, backed by diaries, reports and later correspondence. The field notebooks, catalogues of rock specimens, and the investigative analysis which continued, in collaboration, for almost thirty years are also recorded. Similar material, in somewhat less detail, is found for other areas, notably the plutonic rocks of Rhum and Skye, and for the Himalayan Geology accomplished on the 1933 Everest expedition. The field excursions for students at Reading, Durham and Oxford Universities are also documented.

There are records of Wager's university teaching at Reading, Durham and Oxford Universities. Lectures material covers a wide timespan from talks given as a schoolboy ca 1920 to 1964, and includes technical lectures given in the UK and abroad on all aspects of Wager's scientific interests in layered intrusions, geochemistry and geochronology, and also many less formal talks to non-professional audiences interested in the expeditions to Greenland and Everest. Publications material includes drafts and correspondence relating to Layered Igneous Rocks, Wager's major collaborative work with G.M. Brown that he did not live to see published. Societies and organisations material includes records of Wager's long service on the Royal Society's British National Committee for Geodesy and Geophysics Vulcanology Sub-committee. There is scientific correspondence with the research material to which it refers and some personal correspondence from family and friends including Cambridge contemporaries and acquaintances. There is considerable non-textual material including not only photographs and slides of Wager's expeditions but also the original drawings and maps made on his early Greenland visits in 1930-1931 and 1935-1936.

An Appendix lists personal and geological diaries 1925-1964, which currently remain in family hands.

Administrative / Biographical History

Wager was born on 5 February 1904 in Batley, Yorkshire. He was educated at a local elementary school and then at Hebden Bridge United District Grammar School, where his father was Headmaster. From 1920 to 1923 Wager attended the sixth form of Leeds Grammar School, living with an aunt and uncle (Harold Wager FRS) and obtaining an Exhibition to Pembroke College Cambridge. He read the Natural Sciences Tripos, graduating with a First in Geology in 1926, and began research on Yorkshire Limestones, supported by a Goldsmiths Company Research Scholarship. Throughout his Cambridge period he was an active member of the University Mountaineering Club (President 1925-1926), climbing in Britain and the Alps and establishing a wide reputation for steadiness and a reliable eye for terrain.

Wager's parallel skills as a geologist and climber-explorer were to characterise his career. He was appointed Lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at Reading University in 1929 and played his part in teaching and field excursions of the department. But he also participated in major expeditions that resulted in important scientific discoveries and personal fame. The first of these scientific expeditions, to Greenland in 1930-1931, was the occasion of his recognition and pioneer survey of the igneous intrusions of the East Greenland coastal mountain area between Angmagssalik and Kangerdlugssuaq. The study of this area - reinforced by subsequent expeditions in 1932, 1934, 1935-1936 and 1953 - was the focus of virtually all his scientific research. The expedition to Everest in 1933 brought a different kind of celebrity. Wager and P. Wyn Harris were chosen to lead the final assault on the summit on 29 May 1933; in adverse weather, they were not successful but they reached a greater height than any previous climbers until the successful ascent by Hilary and Tenzing twenty years later in 1953.

During the Second World War Wager was commissioned in the RAF and served in the Photographic Interpretation Unit until his release in 1944 to take up the Chair of Geology at Durham University. In 1950 he moved to Oxford where he greatly expanded the Department of Geology and Mineralogy. In addition to the continuation of petrological and geochemical analysis of East Greenland and other igneous rocks, Wager established the Geological Age and Isotope Research Group (GAIR) for the study of geochronology and geochemistry, in which a new graduate course was introduced.

Wager was elected FRS in 1946. He died very suddenly on 20 November 1965 at the relatively early age of sixty-one.


By section as follows: Biographical and personal, Expeditions and research, University of Reading, University of Durham, University of Oxford, Research topics, Lectures, speeches and addresses, Publications, Societies and organisations, References and recommendations, Correspondence, Non-textual material. Appendix. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access to bona fide scholars upon written application to the Director of the Museum.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Lawrence Rickard Wager: NCUACS catalogue no. 84/5/99, 218 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

The papers were received for cataloguing by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists at various dates, 1998-1999. They were deposited in Oxford University Museum of Natural History in 1999.

The papers represent a consolidation of material previously diffused among several sources. Wager had been one of the three scientists chosen in 1969 for the pilot project that led to the formation in 1973 of the Contemporary Scientific Archives Centre (now the NCUACS). A selection of his papers and diaries, made and listed by Miss J.M. Pye under the direction of Professor Margaret Gowing, was deposited in the Archives of the Royal Society in 1969. A considerable amount of material was returned at that time to family hands, while much of Wager's research notes, maps and teaching material remained in the Oxford Department of Geology and Mineralogy (now Earth Sciences). With the approval of Mrs Wager and her family, the Council of the Royal Society and the Departmental authorities, all these deposits have been assembled and integrated into the present collection.

Geographical Names