August 27, 2003 by

Wilfred Thesiger


Categories: Misc.

Sir Wilfred Patrick Thesiger lived an explorer’s life. He traveled to the most distant and desolate parts of the world, and chronicled his adventures in books and on film.
Thesiger was born in the British Legation in Addis Ababa, where his father was British Minister at the court of the Emperor of Abyssinia. He studied at Eton and Oxford in England, then traveled back to Addis Ababa to attend Haile Selassie’s coronation. During World War II, he joined the Sudan Defense Force and helped the now-deposed Emperor Selassie liberate his country from Italian occupation.
After the war, Thesiger explored Iraq, Persia, Kurdistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kenya. He searched for locust breeding grounds in Saudi Arabia, saw the quicksands at Umm as Samim and traveled by camel across the Empty Quarter, the largest sand desert in the world. He described his adventures in the books “Arabian Sands” and “The Marsh Arabs,” and was knighted in 1995.
Thesiger died on Aug. 24. Cause of death was not released. He was 93.

3 Responses to Wilfred Thesiger

  1. Mark Lee

    Thesiger was more than an explorer or traveller. Like Winston Churchill, his life spanned an era and was representative of a culture now vanished. Thesiger was probably the last living member of the late 19th and early 20th century culture of explorers who are rarely celebrated in our current conservative popular culture. Members of this group sought understanding from the indeterminate journey itself and were interested in concrete understanding (knowledge) and, finally, in an exploration of their own aesthetic. This fundamentally humanist spirit is, I believe, partially responsible for the fall of of the British Empire. Interestingly, this idea is not featured in abundant and repetetive Post Colonial Diatribes that currently abound at Universities around the world.
    Few will miss Thesiger or even speak of him. It is easy to understand why, given the values and boundaries of current Western/European Culture. Thesiger, like other explorers, understood that it was the exploration of the aesthetic that motivates travellers and that exploration requires work and, often, deprivation. Since we have replaced aesthetic searching with materialism and value our creature comforts above all, Thesiger’s form of personal knowledge creation is a non-starter – a bad sell.
    Still a few eccentrics will continue to espouse the values of the soul of the explorer….
    To understand Thesiger and to understand the forces that would omit reference to him in our world, I recommend a reading of Thomas Edward Lawrence, “Seven Pillars of Wisdom.” I look at this book as a form of cultural remembrance.
    Dr. Mark W. Lee,
    Life resident in the Palace of Winds

  2. gavin

    i bought my book thesiger by michael asher many years ago, although i have not read it all the way through yet i somehow feel drawn to mr thesigers face as it seems to be a face of pure knowledge and adventure. a man who i could have only ever have wished to have met. so many questions, he would have got fed up of me. like my grandad the forgotten heroes RIP

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