History

This account is based on Marshall-Cornwall, General Sir James 1976 History of the Geographical Club. London, The Geographical Club.

The Geographical Club, now so called, owed its inception to the initiative of Captain Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke , the notable traveller through Lapland to the North Cape. In 1826, he brought together a group of distinguished travellers and hardy explorers, several from the Travellers’ Club, founded in 1819, to form ‘a most agreeable dining society,’ and known as ‘The Raleigh.’ The Club grew in size to about 50 Members, who included Lt. Col. William Leake ( who made extensive explorations in the Middle East and Asia Minor), Captain John Franklin ( who fought at Trafalgar), Captain the Hon. George Keppel ( who fought at Waterloo) and Sir Roderick Murchison ( who fought in the Peninsular War).

On 24th May 1830, a momentous meeting of the Club took place. Sir John Barrow ( Second Secretary of the Admiralty) was in the Chair , and a motion was proposed, ‘ that a new and useful Society might …. be formed, under the name of The Geographical Society of London.’ The submission that led to this proposal was that, ‘….among the numerous literary and scientific societies established in the British metropolis, one was still wanting to complete the circle of scientific institutions, whose sole object should be the promotion and diffusion of that most important and entertaining branch of knowledge, GEOGRAPHY.’ Thus, The Raleigh Club had the distinction of being the parent body of The Geographical Society of London, later receiving the patronage of William IV to become the Royal Geographical Society.

In 1854, a special meeting of the Raleigh Club of Travellers was held at which the Raleigh Club was dissolved and a new Club called The Geographical Club was established. The Committee comprised the President and Vice-Presidents of the Royal Geographical Society and the Raleigh Club and the Treasurer of the new Club was the Treasurer of the Raleigh Club. Sir Roderick Murchison became the first President. He engineered the change and established what Sir James Marshall- Cornwall in the History of the Club described as ‘ the social inner circle of the Royal Geographical Society.’

Murchison, who had travelled extensively, had written Siluria, was President of the Geological Society and Fellow of the Royal Society was President of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Club for sixteen years. He presided between 1854 and 1870 at 206 of the 223 Club dinners. Founding Members of the Club included William Gladstone, Robert Stephenson, Lord Derby and Sir Francis Galton, who was the first Honorary Vice President and a Member from 1854 until 1910. In July 1855, the rule was adopted that the ordinary toasts be solely ‘The Queen’ and ‘The Royal Geographical Society and Club.’(Today, the toasts are ‘The Queen’ standing, and ‘ The Society and this Club’ seated).

During the latter half of the nineteenth century the Club entertained to dinner some distinguished African explorers ; Dr. David Livingstone, Captain John Hanning Speke, Captain James Grant, Henry Stanley, Sir Samuel Baker and Sir Bartle Frere. Arctic explorers included Sir George Nares, Captain Albert Markham and Professor Adolf Nordenskiöld. A celebrated guest in 1872 was ‘Mark Twain.’ In 1897, a precedent in the Club was created when the distinguished and redoubtable lady traveller, Mrs Isabella Bishop (neé Bird), was invited to dine before giving a lecture on her journeys in Western Sze Chuan.( It was not until 1972 that the decision was made to admit ladies as Members of the Club).

In the twentieth century, the list of distinguished Members and guests grows ever longer. In the first half of the century, they include HRH the Prince of Wales ( later King George V) , HRH the Crown Prince of Sweden, Lord Curzon of Kedleston, President Theodore Roosevelt, Sir Ernest Shackleton, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, Captain Roald Amundsen, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Winston Churchill, Freya Stark, Hilaire Belloc and Rudyard Kipling. Thus it may be fairly claimed that the tradition of conviviality has been well maintained, and that the Club has achieved the ‘principal object’ set out by Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke so long ago ; ‘ the attainment, at a moderate expense, of an agreeable, friendly and rational Society formed by persons who have visited every part of the Globe.’