Francis Herbert

Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries


Francis Herbert was born under the bombing and “rockets’ red glare” of the German Blitz over London on 25 July 1941.  He was soon evacuated from the city and spent the rest of the war with a widowed relation and her four children, chickens and a garden in Wiltshire near Salisbury Plain.  A grandfather lived nearby and kept bees for natural honey. Those years and subsequent holidays spent around the Salisbury area along with his membership in the Boy Scouts helped to kindle his early interests in nature studies and physical geography.

During his school years, Francis’ fascination with geography, geology, and maps grew, and in secondary school he was attracted to chemistry and physics as well.  At age fourteen, he also joined the school choir and theatrical group. Until recently, he sang in a professional-standard choir that tours widely, and he maintains his love for the arts.

Beginning with a summer job, at age seventeen Francis began in the employment of the British Broadcasting Corporation in its television, then radio, Gramophone and Music Libraries, working with classical, light, and foreign music and stimulating his growing skills in foreign languages and scripts.  Over the course of his life, he has become practiced, and mostly self-taught, in French, German, Swedish, Welsh, Armenian, Russian, and Dutch. After leaving the BBC, Francis became an assistant librarian at the then Northampton College of Advanced Technology (now City University of London) while at the same time earning a certificate in proficiency in the theory and practice of paper and vellum repair at what was the London College of Printing.

Thereafter, his library and museum work with yet different media—cartographic, photographic, artistic, scientific instruments, and explorers’ artifacts—continued by returning to geography; in 1971 he began working in the Map Room of the Royal Geographical Society on Kensington Gore in London, where he remained until his retirement in 2006.  Francis dedicated himself to cataloging, bibliography, and carto-bibliography and became a godsend many times over to scholars and their students and others using the RGS’s collections. In so doing, he vastly upgraded and modernized the RGS Map Room’s reference systems and made them more user-friendly to individual members, other patrons, and outside institutions.  Carefully choosing unique and scientifically-important terrestrial globes in the RGS for conservation was eventually his responsibility, too.

Francis is the author of numerous book chapters and articles on cataloging, bibliography, carto-bibliography, and the history of discovery, exploration, and cartography in various European, Canadian, and American publications.  In retirement, he even now is engaged in editing books, bibliographies, and theses. He also has curated three major exhibitions at the RGS based on its collections to mark the anniversaries of the Hydrographic Office of the United Kingdom (1995), Gerhard Mercator (1995), and Abraham Ortelius (1998).  He was on the editorial boards of The Map Collector, Mercator’s World, and MapForum and, from 1976 until 2005, compiled the bibliography for Imago Mundi.  He has served two terms on the Council of the Hakluyt Society in 1996-1999 and 2006-2011 respectively.  As the “author of meticulously researched articles” and “probably the most helpful librarian in the world” among other reasons, in 1995, Francis was the winner of the International Map Collectors’ Society R.V. Tooley Award.  And in 1996, he was given an Honorary Fellowship of the RGS “for his contributions to the Society and to the wider cartographic world as Map Curator and cartographic scholar;” and also earned his Fellowship of the British Cartographic Society.  He is truly internationally renowned not only for his knowledge and skills, but also as a person of good humor, and a notorious punster.

Francis joined the Society for the History of Discoveries in 1991.  He has presented at an annual meeting of the Society and has served as a Council member, Vice President/President-Elect/Program Chair, and in 1997-1999 as President.  He also was valiantly instrumental in bringing the Society’s necktie to fruition and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Terrae Incognitae.

For his technical and historical scholarship and other contributions to bibliography, carto-bibliography, map curatorship, and the history of discovery, exploration, and cartography, for his invaluable well-informed and affable assistance to countless individuals and institutions in these and related fields, and for his energetic leadership in the SHD, Francis Herbert herewith is made FSHD—Fellow of the Society for the History of Discoveries.

Fifty-third Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Discoveries
Pasadena, California
September 28, 2012

Prepared by Dennis Reinhartz
(Photo by David Webb)




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