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Rymill, John 1905-1968

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Born: 13 March 1905 [Penola, South Australia]

Died: 7 September 1968 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Arctic and Antarctic explorer, pastoralist

Rymill's childhood was spent on the family estate, Penola Station, in South Australia's south east. He attended Melbourne Grammar School, but returned to Penola during school holidays. At the station he learnt practical skills in bushcraft and handling animals. When their schooling was completed, Rymill's mother took him and his brother John to live in England. The family holidayed in Switzerland and Rymill became an accomplished skier. He learnt to fly and studied navigation, surveying, cooking and nutrition and anthropology. Rymill worked at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University and went with the University's Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology Expedition to Canada in 1929. The following year he was chosen to join the British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland (1930-31) led by Gino Watkins. The surveying work of the expedition and findings about the meteorological conditions assisted in the planning of an air route between England and Canada. During the expedition Rymill and a companion completed a crossing of Greenland (about 640 kilometres) in very trying conditions.

Rymill joined Watkins again in Greenland for an expedition during 1932-33 to complete the survey work and meteorological observations of the earlier expedition. Watkins drowned while fishing and Rymill took charge, leading the team to complete the expedition's work. Rymill next planned an expedition to Antarctica, inspired by Watkins' plans before his death. From 1934-37 he led the British Graham Land Expedition to accurately survey South Graham Land (the Antarctic Peninsula), a relatively unexplored area of Antarctica. Hubert Wilkins (another South Australian) had flown over South Graham Land in 1928 and reported that it was not connected to mainland Antarctica. Rymill's team showed irrefutably that South Graham Land was a peninsula which extended north from the main Antarctic continent towards South America. Rymill's approach was novel - unlike earlier expeditions which had been ambitious in scope, Rymill chose to explore one particular area in great detail. The expedition combined coastal surveys by boat, aerial surveys and land explorations to accurately map the area and discover the King George VI Sound (a permanently frozen channel) and new mountain ranges.

Rymill returned to Penola in 1938 and served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II. For the rest of his life, Rymill and his wife Eleanor managed Penola Station, breeding sheep and cattle and investigating methods of perennial pasture development. Rymill also pursued his interest in equestrian sports; he was actively involved with the Equestrian Federation of Australia and the Pony Club Association of South Australia. Rymill died in a car accident in 1968.

Key achievements

1930-31: Surveyor and Pilot on British Arctic Air Route Expedition to Greenland

1931: Awarded British Service Polar Medal with Arctic bar

1932-33: Second expedition to Greenland with Gino Watkins

1934-37: Leader of the British Graham Land Expedition

1937: Granted British Service Polar Medal with Antarctic bar

1938: Awarded the Founders' medal of the Royal Geographical Society

1939: Presented with the David Livingstone Centenary gold medal of the American Geographical Society of New York

Did you know?

Rymill named the ship used on the British Graham Land Expedition (1934-37) Penola after his family's estate in South Australia's south east.

See also:

Taking it to the Edge: South Australia's polar pioneers: John Rymill

Further reading

Béchervaise, John. Arctic and Antarctic : the will and the way of John Riddoch Rymill, Huntingdon [England] : Bluntisham Books, 1995

The explorers, Penola, S. Aust. : Penola Branch, National Trust of South Australia, 1996

Rymill, John. Southern lights; the official account of the British Graham land expedition, 1934-1937, by John Rymill, with two chapters by A. Stephenson, and an historical introduction by Hugh Robert Mill, London, Chatto and Windus, 1938

Sitters, Valerie. 'John Rymill (1905-1968)', Geonews, vol. 2, no.4 (September/October 1995), p. 13-16


Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Search for: John Rymill

Rymill Coonawarra [winery] See: About: Rymill history: John Riddoch Rymill

Scott Polar Research Institute [University of Cambridge] See: Resources: Expeditions: Scroll to: 1934-37 British Graham Land Expedition (leader: J. Rymill)

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