The Papers of William Archibald Macfadyen

Scope and Content

The collection contains reports of work done for the Discovery Investigations scientific cruises in the Southern Ocean, 1926-1932; papers, reports and notes relating to fossil localities and specimens in Somaliland in Africa during the 1930s as well as reports on the countrys geology; notes on lectures on Iraq and its water supply during the 1930s; field slips; sketches of fossils; geological maps; papers relating to Foram research in England; and 20 notebooks relating to work for the Nature Conservancy from 1950-1968.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Archibald Macfadyen (1893-1985) was born on 5 November 1893, and educated at Rydal Mount School, Colwyn Bay, in North Wales from 1906-1911 and subsequently at St Johns College in the University of Cambridge, where he studied chemistry from 1912 and geology from 1918.

He participated in active service in the First World War, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in "The Buffs" (The Royal East Kent Regiment) on 7 August 1914, and sent first to Bombay, then to Iraq. By 1916 he was a lieutenant and acting captain.

However, he was then badly wounded by machine gun fire in 1917, getting a bullet shattered knee and wrist received whilst in Mesopotamia, he was awarded the Military Cross, but declared unfit for further active service. He, therefore, returned to Cambridge to complete his studies, and having graduated in 1917, was sent as a chemist to Sheffield to help in relining artillery barrels.

After the war, Macfadyen again returned to Cambridge, this time to study geology. Subsequently, in 1920, he joined Anglo Egyptian Oilfields Ltd as their geologist and worked mostly in Egypt. His headquarters was in Hurghada, and he mapped a good deal of country in the Eastern desert of Egypt, western Sinai, and in the Suez Canal area, particularly between 1922 and 1925. He was also acting concessions manager for two months. In addition he undertook geological reconnaissance over wider areas, and some of his maps were published.

In 1926 he spent six months mapping the Farsan Islands, in the Southern Red Sea, and reported on the oil prospects for the Red Sea Petroleum Co. Ltd. He states in his records that he also visited the Zebaiyir islands nearby. He then spent a further six months in Rumania in 1928, with Astra Romana S.A. where he geologically mapped part of the Doicesti area, living on the Ochiuri oilfield for part of the time.

He gained a PhD in 1928, working then in British Somaliland from 1928 to 1930, reporting on the whole country for Somaliland Petroleum Company Ltd and mapping geologically the majority of the country. He notes in his papers that the project was axed in 1931 upon completion of this work, during the "great slump".

He returned to Iraq in 1931 as a government geologist, where he remained until 1937. He explains in his records that he "ran this service for four years; engaged on all sorts of geological investigations, including economic minerals, oil, and water supply, and engineering problems of dam sites, bridge sites, road and building materials, canal sites etc, but mainly on water supply".

In 1933 he undertook work as part of the Discovery Investigations scientific cruises in the southern ocean, funded by the British Colonial Office and the Discovery Commission of 1918. He studied samples of fossil Foraminifera and recognized deposits from several stations of the R.R.S. 'Discovery 11' and the R.R.S. ' William Scoresby' and in samples dredged from three stations on the northern part of the Burdwood Bank. His report, part of volume VII, was published 27th February 1933. He never actually visited Antarctica itself, he notes in his records.

In the late 1930s he made reconnaissances mainly for well-water supplies over large parts of Iraq, including the Southern Desert and Kurdistan. He then spent three months in 1939 an area east of Euphrates and north of Deir ez Zor making further reconnaissance travelling over much of the country covering most of the main roads and tracks north of the line Beirut-Damascus.

It was as a hydrogeologist, therefore, that 'Mac' rejoined the army. This time he was appointed to the Royal Engineers, being granted a Regular Army Emergency Commission as a Second Lieutenant on 17 May 1941, and promoted War substantive Lieutenant that same day. Further promotion followed, to both War Substantive Captain and Temporary Major on 30 December 1943. He served first in England and then in North Africa and the Mediterranean area with welldrilling units, which themselves generated more junior military geologists.

After 1945, Macfadyen served as a civilian water geologist in Somalia, before returning to the United Kingdom and appointment as a geologist with the Nature Conservancy. This was worlds first statutory, non-voluntary conservation body. Macfadyen took up the position of chief geologist for the Conservancy in 1950, and kept a large number of notebooks of his work.

Apart from his work on the geology of Somaliland, he is most widely remembered for some 25 publications on the paleontology of foraminifera.

He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, 1927-1985, and spoke at least 6 languages. He died in 1985.


Original order of the files amalgamated into boxes [boxes 511-514] in the 1990s has been lost. No clear original order of these records, or the others exists.

The collection is still to be arranged and catalogued.

Access Information

The papers are largely open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. However, as the papers have not been appraised, there may be some closures.

The Geological Conservation Unit [Brighton Building] is open from Monday to Friday, 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-17:00. A prior appointment made at least two weeks in advance, and two forms of identification are required.

Please contact the Museum to ask about the collection or to make an appointment.

Other Finding Aids

The DDF Archive Inventory spreadsheet is available which contains basic box listing entries for the legacy records of the Sedgwick Museum and Department of Earth Sciences.

Please ask staff for further information.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description was created by Sandra Marsh of Sedgwick Museum in November 2010 using information from the papers themselves, Sedgwick museum correspondence files, and a paper about Macfadyens work for the Nature Conservancy in the Proceedings of the Geological Association (2010).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, photographs, and printouts from scanned images may be provided. Charges may apply. Readers may also use their own digital cameras subject to copyright legislation and in-house rules.

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Sedgwick Museum Staff.

Please cite as Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Papers of William Archibald Macfadyen, MCFN.

Appraisal Information

The collection is still to be appraised.

Custodial History

12 original cardboard boxes and 4 archive boxes were identified as containing records created or retained by William Macfadyen. These were repackaged into 39 conservation grade boxes during the DDF project (2010-2011).

Those records that were already in some conservation boxes had been amalgamated during the 1980s/1990s. [boxes 511-514]

It is not entirely clear when the records were physically transferred to the museum, although documentation in legacy Museum correspondence files suggests between the late 1960s and mid 1970s.

The records had been transferred from the Sedgwick Museum [Downing Street, Cambridge] to the Geological Conservation Unit [Madingley Road] between 1991-2009.


No more records are currently expected.

Related Material

The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) also holds 2 boxes and 27 files which Macfayden deposited with them in 1982. They comprise geological and route notebooks1920-1948, including pre war notebooks in Egypt, Farsan Island, Romania, British Somaliland; Iraq and Syria, notebooks made during World War Two in North Africa, Sicily, Corsica and Italy and notebooks made in post war British Somaliland for the General Survey.

Geographical Names