The Papers of Sir Vivian Fuchs

Scope and Content

The collection comprises notebooks and diaries (both originals and in some cases carbon copies) relating to geological work undertaken in East Africa during the 1930s. The records include drawings, sketches and maps with some indication of what specimens were located and where. There are also some papers and notes relating to specimens; several published pamphlets; a draft annotated copy of Vivian Fuchs PhD thesis with photographs; and specimen cards.

Administrative / Biographical History

Vivian Ernst Fuchs, often referred to as Bunny, was the son of the German immigrant Ernst Fuchs from Jena and of his British wife Violet Watson. Fuchs was born in 1908 in Freshwater, Isle of Wight. During the First World War the internment of all Germans was ordered and his father was put in a prison camp for aliens on the Isle of Man.

In 1917, aged nine, Vivian Fuchs went to Asheton Preparatory School near Tenterden,Kent, where he became Head Boy. After attending Brighton College Fuchs went to St John's College, Cambridge in 1926. His tutor was James Wordie, who had been Senior Scientist on Shackleton's Endurance Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition between 1914 and 1916. Wordie became Fuchs's influential mentor and took him to the Arctic on an expedition. Much later, Wordie was key in supporting the planning of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Fuchs read Geology, Zoology and Botany, graduating in 1930 with a Third.

After exams in the summer of 1929, Fuchs was invited to join James Wordie on his summer expedition to Greenland. On 2nd July the party of four geologists, two surveyors, a doctor and a physicist, sailed from Aberdeen aboard the Heimland, a 64-ton Norweigan seal-hunting ship. Six days later the ship entered the pack ice and progress became slow. Stuck fast in the ice, time passed with short expeditions catching seal and bear to eat, collecting and identifying animals, plants and birds. After a month of slow progress through the ice, they at last sighted Greenland and sailed up the Franz Josef Fjord to anchor inland at Kjerulf Fjord, long behind schedule with only three weeks left to complete the field work, which included climbing Petermann Peak. Wordie and two others reached the summit (9650 ft) on 16 August in dangerous conditions.

The Greenland expedition was Fuchs's first experience of polar work, and was to shape his future as explorer, scientist and leader. He describes this expedition as a 'memorable baptism of ice'. Following the Greenland Expedition Fuchs returned to Cambridge for a fourth year to read Geology and, encouraged by Wordie, to write a paper with a fellow expedition member on some of their findings - his first publication.

Through an acquaintance with Louis S B Leakey, research fellow at St John's College, Vivian Fuchs was introduced to Dr Barton Worthington and on the recommendation of his tutor, James Wordie, was recruited as geologist to the 1930 - 31 Cambridge Expedition to the East African Lakes. The objective was to study the biology and geology of the lakes in the Great African Rift Valley.

Often working alone, Fuchs quickly grew acclimatised to the harsh conditions and was just as captivated by the vast, hot continent as he had been by the Arctic pack ice. After Lake Baringo in Kenya, the expedition moved on to Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in northern Kenya, using vehicles and camels to transport men and equipment. On return to Baringo Fuchs became seriously ill with malaira, and was hospitalised in Nairobi for two months before he rejoined the expedition. In western Uganda, he travelled into what is now Zaire and spent a month studying Lake George.In 1931 Fuchs joined Louis Leakey on an archaeological expedition to Olduvai in Tanzania, finding stone-age tools and mammal fossils which were sent to the Natural History collection at the British Museum.

In 1933 Fuchs married his cousin, Joyce Connell. A world traveller in her own right, Joyce accompanied Vivian on his expedition to Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana) in 1934. Plans were submitted to the Royal Society, Royal Geographical Society and other funding bodies, to raise the £2000 necessary to sustain six men for a year on the expedition.

In Kenya, west of Lake Turkana, they collected the first pre-Neolithic implements found in the lake basin, then travelled north to the frontier with Sudan. Returning to Naivasha, the expedition re-fitted for the second part and set out for Lake Turkana to resume geological and survey work. Here they made the first recorded visit to South Island and found signs of human occupation. When Fuchs returned to the mainland to continue his geological work, disaster struck and his two companions, Martin and Dyson, were lost. After intensive searches for more than eight days the search had to be called off. Although Fuchs's first expedition as leader had ended in tragic circumstances and earlier than planned, the scientific work was not lost and led to a PhD.

In 1935 Joyce and Vivian Fuchs bought their first home, at 72 Barton Road in Cambridge. In February 1936, their daughter Hilary was born. The following year they bought the house known as Barton Cottage, 79 Barton Road and the next door plot 76 Barton Road (undeveloped). Barton Cottage was later sold and the house and garden eventually acquired by Wolfson College.

After writing up his PhD at the Sedgwick Museum (later the Department of Earth Sciences) at the University of Cambridge, Fuchs organised an expedition to investigate the Lake Rukwa basin in southern Tanzania in 1937. Sadly, when he returned in 1938 to a new daughter, Rosalind, she was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy, with tragic consequences for the family. Rosalind died aged almost eight.

Fuchs served in West Africa during 1942-43 but was recalled to attend the Staff College at Camberley, and was then posted to North Western Europe, where he was mentioned in dispatches. He was demobilised as a major in October 1946.

The following year he was appointed leader of the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey or FIDS (which later became the British Antarctic Survey in 1961). The team had no mechanised transport and were entirely dependent on dogs. Exceptionally severe ice conditions in 1949-50 kept them in the Antarctic without relief for two seasons as the John Biscoe was unable to relieve them at Stonington. When Fuchs returned home in 1950 Fuchs was appointed director of the survey's scientific bureau. He also received the Royal Geographical Society's Founder's Gold Medal.

The Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, a scheme which presented itself to Fuchs during the season 1949-50. The main parties were in Antarctica in February 1957. An intermediary station was erected at South Ice, 275 miles inland, and on November 24 the crossing was begun in six tracked vehicles with dogs and aircraft.

The New Zealanders, led by Sir Hiliary Edmundson reached Amundsen-Scott Base January 4, 1958, while "Bunny's Boys" were still nearly 400 miles away, labouring to make up time lost in the appalling terrain between Shackleton and South Ice. Leaving the Pole on January 24, Fuchs's party completed the first land crossing of the White Continent in 99 days, one fewer than their leader's original estimate. Along the way a substantial scientific programme had been accomplished, including seismic soundings and a gravity traverse.

On his return, Fuchs was knighted, qualified for a clasp to his Polar Medal of 1953, and became one of the very few explorers to whom the Royal Geographical Society has awarded a Special Gold Medal. Many other awards and honours followed.

From 1958 to 1973, Fuchs was Director of the British Antarctic Survey. He was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) in 1971, and in 1974 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was President of the Royal Geographical Society from 1982 to 1984. He published his autobiography in 1985.

Fuchs's first wife died in 1990, and in the following year he married Mrs Eleanor Honnywill.


The records appeared to have no original order, as they had been amalgamated in the 1990s into archive boxes, so any original order had been lost.

As all the records concerned Fuchs expeditions in Africa, it was decided to arrange the collection into 4 series reflecting the different expeditions to reflect the chronology of when the records were created.

  • FCHS 1 Expedition: East African Lake, 1930-1931
  • FCHS 2 The Njorowa Gorge Survey, January - March 1932
  • FCHS 3 Expedition: Lake Rudolf Rift Valley, 1934
  • FCHS 4 Expedition: Lake Rukwa 1937-1938

A number of sub-series exist within each series to reflect the type of records. These are outlined in each series arrangement description.

Access Information

The papers are open for consultation by researchers using Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences.

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

This collection has been catalogued which is available online, and in hard copy from the Sedgwick Museum. A previous basic box-list from the DDF project 2010-2011 also exists. Please ask staff for further information.

Archivist's Note

The collection (and series) level descriptions were created by Sandra Marsh of Sedgwick Museum in October 2010 using information from Vivien Fuchs entry in Who Was Who (A and C Black, 1997) the Dictionary of National Biography (DNB), and the papers themselves.

In June 2011 the records were described in greater detail by an archive volunteer, Janet Bayliss.

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 Sir Vivien Fuchs, FCHS

Appraisal Information

The collection has been appraised and catalogued.

Custodial History

4 archive boxes (boxed in the 1990s) were identified as containing records created and/or maintained by Vivien Fuchs. These were repackaged into 6 new conservation grade boxes during the DDF project 2010-2011.

As no documentation could be recovered in Museum correspondence files to ascertain the provenance or acquisition details of the volumes, it is not clear when these records were originally physically transferred to the Museum.

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 Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) has the records of Vivien Fuchs expeditions in Antarctica.
  • The British Antarctic Survey has its predecessors records, the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey (FIDS).

Geographical Names