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CONWAY, William Martin (1856-1937)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0402 SSC/23
Held at: Royal Geographical Society
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Full title: CONWAY, William Martin (1856-1937)
Date(s): 1896-1897
Level of description: Collection Level
Extent: Two boxes
Name of creator(s): Conway | William Martin | 1856-1937 | Baron Conway of Allington | art critic


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Martin Conway, was born on 12 April 1856 at Rochester; educated at Repton School and from 1875 at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he studied history, graduating BA in 1879 and MA in 1882. He was a Cambridge University extension lecturer from 1882 to 1885. Conway climbed extensively in the Alps as an undergraduate, and was elected to the Alpine Club in 1877. In 1881 he published the Zermatt Pocketbook, the model for a series of Conway and Coolidge's Climbers' Guides. Conway was responsible for many beautiful mountain names, such as Wellenkuppe, Windjoch, and Dent du Requin.

Conway became Roscoe Professor of Art at University College, Liverpool, in 1885; published books on Reynolds, Gainsborough, early Flemish artists, and Albrecht Dürer; later resigning from his Liverpool position in 1888, moving to London, where he frequented the Savile Club, gave lectures, and published a book on the art of the ancient world.

In 1892 Conway led a large-scale mountaineering expedition to the Karakoram Conway's large party surveyed the Baltoro glacier and the region around K2, and ascended Pioneer Peak on Baltoro Kangri, which at 6890 metres may have constituted an altitude record at the time.

After publishing a book about the Karakoram in 1894, he walked the length of the Alps with two Gurkha soldiers, forming the basis of a popular book, The Alps from End to End,1895. He received a knighthood in 1895 and shortly afterwards made an unsuccessful bid to win a seat in Parliament as a Liberal. In 1896 Conway surveyed in Spitsbergen, In 1898 Conway travelled south to climb Illimani in Bolivia and Aconcagua in Argentina with two alpine guides.

In 1901 he was offered a term as the Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Cambridge; resumed writing art history, including works on Tuscan art, the great masters, the Van Eycks, and Giorgione. He resigned the Slade Professorship in 1904. He served as President of the Alpine Club from 1902 to 1904; first President of the Alpine Ski Club in 1908; was a Fellow of Royal Geographical Society, 1893-1937 and was awarded the Founders Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1905.

In 1917, Conway was appointed Director-General of the Imperial War Museum, an honorary post which he retained until his death. He received an honorary LittD from both Durham and Manchester in 1919.

Conway served as a trustee of the Wallace Collection and the National Portrait Gallery and was active in the Society of Authors and the Society of Antiquaries. He was one of the first to realize the value of the systematic and comprehensive collection of photographic records of architecture and art and he presented his own collection of 100,000 photographs to the Courtauld Institute of Art. In later years he published several autobiographical works: Mountain Memories, 1920, Episodes of a Varied Life, 1932, and A Pilgrim's Quest for the Divine, 1936. He died on 19 April 1937.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of William Martin Conway, 1896-1897, comprise a collection of notes on the history of Spitsbergen, 1596-1897. Used by Conway in the preparation of his book No man's land: a history of Spitsbergen, published in 1906.

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:


Allied Materials

Related material:

See also RGS Correspondence Files: 1891-1919, (35 letters).

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Prepared by Archives volunteer using existing finding aids.

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 December, 2001 and May 2008.

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