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CHEESMAN, Major R E (1878-1962)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 REC
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: CHEESMAN, Major R E (1878-1962)
Date(s): 1921-1927
Level of description: Collection level
Extent: 1 box and three files
Name of creator(s): Cheesman | R E | 1878-1962 | Major


Administrative/Biographical history:

Robert Ernest Cheesman was born at Westwell, Kent, on 18 October 1878. His younger sister, (Lucy) Evelyn Cheesman (1881-1969), became a well-known entomologist, traveller, writer, and broadcaster. Cheesman was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, London, and Wye Agricultural College; worked for Sharpe and Winch, brewers, of Cranbrook, Kent and was a keen ornithologist. He was elected to the British Ornithologists' Union in 1908, and in 1912-1914 contributed notes to British Birds.

In 1914 Cheesman enlisted in the Buffs, served in India and in the attempted relief of Kut. In 1916 he met Sir Percy Cox, who shared his enthusiasm for birds. Together they undertook to collect the avifauna of Iraq. Cox wanted to organise the growing of vegetables for the troops and persuaded Cheesman to take a commission (1916) in the Indian army reserve of officers. Cheesman then became assistant to the deputy director of agriculture. While Cox was high commissioner in Iraq, Cheesman was his private secretary (1920-1923). He was elected to the British Ornithologists' Club in 1919, a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1920, and a corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London in 1921.

In 1921 Cheesman mapped the Arabian coast from Uqair to the head of the Gulf of Salwa. He was appointed OBE in 1923. In 1923-1924 he spent eleven weeks at Hufuf and then travelled to Jabrin, receiving the Royal Geographical Society's Gill memorial award in 1925 for this journey. In 1925 he became consul for north-west Ethiopia, resident at Dangila, as a member of the Sudan political service. He visited the source of the Blue Nile several times, first in March 1926. He mapped the river from Tisisat to Wanbera in January-April 1927, returning to Dangila through little-known country. He completed the map from Wanbera to the frontier in February-April 1929 and explored the river from its source to Lake Tana, correcting many cartographical errors, in 1932. He circumnavigated the lake, landing on all the bigger islands and making a compass traverse of the coast, in November 1932-April 1933. He retired in 1934, was made a commander of the Star of Ethiopia, and was appointed CBE, 1935. He received the Royal Geographical Society's patron's medal in 1936 for his explorations, which he described in Lake Tana and the Blue Nile (1936) and was Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society 1920-1962.

In 1940, at the request of the Governor-General of Sudan, Cheesman became head of the Ethiopian section of Intelligence, Sudan Defence Force, first as bimbashi, then as colonel. In 1942 Cheesman became oriental counsellor at the legation, Addis Ababa. In 1944 he retired finally to Cranbrook, having been mentioned in dispatches in both wars. He died on 13 February 1962 in Tunbridge Wells.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Robert Ernest Cheesman, 1921-1927, comprise sketch maps; notes on survey positions and altitudes, Abbai River, Abyssinia; correspondence, 1925-27; astronomical observations and meteorological notes made at oases in the eastern Najd, Arabia, 1923-24; extracts from diary; topographical sketches; astronomical observations; notes on vocabulary, 'Ojair to Salwa', Arabia, 1921.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Conditions governing access:

Accessible via The Foyle Reading Room. Free of charge for Fellows, Members and those with valid academic identification. All other users pay a charge and must bring identification in order to register on arrival.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Photocopying at the discretion of the Archivist and subject to completion of 'application for copies' form. No reproduction or publication without permission of the RGS-IBG Archivist.

Finding aids:

Description available online at Access to Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Some items were donated in 2001.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Royal Geographical Society Correspondence Blocks: RGS/CB9/38. Journal manuscript: JMS/3/171.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online.
Prepared by Archives volunteer using existing finding aids and edited by Samantha Velumyl, AIM25 cataloguer.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
10th January, 2002 and modified May 2008.

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