Sandy Wollaston

Alexander Frederick Richmond “Sandy” Wollaston (22 May 1875 – 3 June 1930) was a British medical doctor, ornithologist, botanist, climber and explorer.

Wollaston was educated at Clifton College and studied medicine at King's College, Cambridge, graduating in 1896 and qualifying as a surgeon in 1903.[1] However, he disliked the medical profession and preferred to spend his life on exploration and natural history. He travelled extensively, visiting Lapland, the Dolomites, Sudan and Japan, as well as participating in an expedition to the Ruwenzori Mountains of Uganda in 1905.

Wollaston was murdered by Douglas Potts, a student, at his rooms in Cambridge.

Expeditions to New Guinea

Wollaston participated in the BOU Expedition to the Snow Mountains of Netherlands New Guinea in 1910–11. The main aim was to climb the highest mountains there as well as to collect biological and ethnological specimens. However, the expedition was unsuccessful in its primary aim largely because of obfuscation by the Dutch authorities.[2]

In 1912–13 Wollaston led a second expedition (the Wollaston Expedition) to New Guinea. There he succeeded in climbing to within 150 m of the summit of the Carstensz Pyramid, at 4884 m the highest peak on the island, and one not summited until 1962.[3][4]

He is commemorated in the names of a bat, a skink (lizard) and a frog from New Guinea:

A third expedition to New Guinea was planned but fell through because of the outbreak of the First World War, during which he served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy.

Wollaston took part (as doctor, ornithologist and botanist) in the 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition to Mount Everest. It was in the course of this expedition that he discovered a new Primula, a flower which was subsequently named after him as Wollaston’s Primrose, Primula wollastonii.[5]

In 1923 Wollaston married Mary "Polly" Meinertzhagen, the sister of Richard Meinertzhagen, with whom he had three children.

He was elected to a Fellowship in the Royal Geographic Society (RGS) in 1907, and received the Gill Memorial in 1914, followed by the Society's Patron's Medal in 1925 for his expeditions into Africa and New Guinea. He was appointed Honorary Secretary of the RGS in 1928.

Wollaston was invited by John Maynard Keynes to be a tutor at Cambridge. He was killed in 1930 in his rooms at King's College by a student, D. N. Potts, who fatally shot Wollaston and a police officer before shooting himself in a triple murder-suicide.[6]


Books authored by Wollaston include:


  1. "Wollaston, Frederick Alexander Richmond (WLSN893AF)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. Wollaston, Alexander Frederick Richmond. (1912). Pygmies and Papuans: the Stone Age to-day in Dutch New Guinea. Smith, Elder & Co: London.
  3. Papua Insects Foundation: Wollaston Expedition
  4. Wollaston, Alexander Frederick Richmond. (1914). "An expedition to Dutch New Guinea". Geographical Journal 43(3): 248-273.
  5. Royal Geographic Society - Imaging Everest Biographies: Alexander Frederick Richmond Wollaston
  6. Garfield, Brian. (2007). The Meinertzhagen Mystery. The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud. Potomac Books: Washington. p.174. ISBN 978-1-59797-041-9

Further reading

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