Thesiger, Wilfred (Patrick) 1910-2003

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THESIGER, Wilfred (Patrick) 1910-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born June 3, 1910, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; died August 24, 2003, in London, England. Explorer and author. Thesiger was a renowned adventurer who spent the majority of his life traveling uncharted areas of Africa and the Middle East. The son of a British minister stationed abroad, he spent his early years in Ethiopia—what was then Abyssinia—and India. His family returned to England in 1919, and he attended boarding school there, later attending Eton and completing a master's degree at Magdalen College, Oxford. An invitation to attend Haile Selassie's coronation in 1930 presented all the inspiration he needed to begin his life in exploration, and the next he joined a fishing crew off the coast of Iceland. Next, he returned to warmer climes to mount an expedition to find out where the Awash River ended its course. This first effort was unsuccessful, but a second expedition led Thesiger to find out that the river eventually drained into Abhebad Lake. From 1935 until 1940, he was employed in the Sudan Political Service, during which time he learned Arabic and the culture of Arabic tribes, gaining a great love and appreciation for the beauty of the desert and its people. When World War II began, he served in the Sudan Defense Force, fighting on the Ethiopian frontier, North Africa, and Syria, earning the rank of major, and being named to the Distinguished Service Order in 1941. With the war over, he returned to his traveling ways, mounting expeditions across the barren Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia by camel and, in the 1950s, living with Madan Arabs in Iraq, where he gathered rare plant species for the British Museum. His other travels took him to Afghanistan, Kurdistan, Pakistan, and Kenya; in Kenya he lived with Samburu tribespeople, who adopted him into one of their families. He spent much of the rest of his life in Kenya, only moving back to England to stay in 1995. Thesiger's extraordinary life and travels, which also earned him titles of Commander of the British Empire in 1968 and Knight of the British Empire in 1995, are captured in his books, which include Arabian Sands (1959), The Marsh Arabs (1964), Desert, Marsh and Mountain (1979), The Life of My Choice (1987), Visions of a Nomad (1987), My Kenya Days (1994), The Danakil Diary (1996), Among the Mountains (1998), Crossing the Sands (1999), A Vanished World (2001), and My Life and Travels (2002).



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 204: British Travel Writers, 1940-1997, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.


Independent (London, England), August 27, 2003, p. 16.

Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2003, p. B14.

New York Times, August 27, 2003, p. C14.

Times (London, England), August 26, 2003.

Washington Post, August 27, 2003, p. B6.