Gold Medals of The Royal Geographical Society

Founders and Patron’s Medal

Since 1832, the prestigious medals and awards of the Royal Geographical Society have recognised excellence in geographical research and fieldwork, teaching and public engagement.

They are presented annually in recognition of those who have made outstanding achievements. Any Fellow or member of the Society may make a nomination.

Her Majesty The Queen approves the award of two Gold Medals every year. They originated in 1831, as an annual gift of fifty guineas from King William IV.

In 1839, the Society decided that this sum should be converted into two gold medals of equal value, to be designated the Founder’s Medal and the Patron’s Medal.

Today, the Society’s Gold Medals are among the highest international accolades and are awarded for the encouragement and promotion of geography, science and discovery.

History of the medals and awards

RGS Gold Medals
From its foundation, the Society received an annual grant of 50 guineas from the reigning monarch to be awarded with royal approval ‘for the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery’.

Initially the award was given in money, then from 1836-38 as a Royal Medal.

In 1839, it was decided to divide the award and from that year onwards, the Society has awarded two medals, the Patron’s Medal and the Founder’s Medal. Both are of equal value and merit.

The medals were made in fine gold except during the years 1918-21 when they were made in bronze.

From 1975 they have been made in silver gilt. Medals were not awarded in the years 1850, 1851, 1855, 1943 and 1944.

The Founder’s Medal

Designed by W Wyon, is engraved with the recipient’s name and date of the award. One side of the medal displays the bare head of King William IV and on the reverse side is the figure of Minerva standing in front of a globe, holding a wreath and a scroll. A sextant and other surveying instruments lay at her feet.

The Patron’s Medal

Designed by W Wyon (and subsequently A Wyon; AG Wyon) is engraved with the recipient’s name and date of the award. One side of the medal displays the head of young Queen Victoria and on the reverse side is the figure of Minerva (as above).

The heads of Edward II, King George V, Edward VIII, George VI, young head of Elizabeth II have also appeared on the medal.


1832 TO 2012

The Gold Medals (Founder’s and Patron’s Medals 1830/38)
‘For the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery.’

These originated in an annual gift of fifty guineas from King William IV, first made in 1831, ‘to constitute a premium for the encouragement and promotion of geographical science and discovery’. In 1839 the Society decided that ‘this sum should be converted into two gold medals of equal value, to be designated the Founder’s Medal and the Patron’s’. Both are approved by Her Majesty The Queen.

Totally 40 awards are given to Himalayan explorers or climbers – from 1832 to 2012- in 181 years.

Some of The Gold Medal winners are listed below. Himalayan Explorers and Mountaineer Awardees are covered here. Two Indians have received the Royal award: 1877 Pandit Nain Singh and 2003 Harish Kapadia.

For full list see

Year Medal Winner Citation
1852 Patron’s Medal Captain Henry Strachey “for extensive explorations and surveys in Western Tibet”
1865 Founder’s Medal Captain T. G. Montgomerie “for his great trigonometrical journey from the plains of the Punjab to the Karakoram Range”
1866 Founder’s Medal Dr. Thomas Thomson “for his researches in the Western Himalayas and Thibet”
1870 Founder’s Medal George W. Hayward “for his journey into Eastern Turkistan, and for reaching the Pamir Steppe”
1872 Patron’s Medal Robert B. Shaw “for journeys in Eastern Turkistan, and for his extensive astronomical and hypsometrical observations”
1873 Founder’s Medal Ney Elias “for his enterprise and ability in surveying the course of the Yellow River, and for his journey through Western Mongolia”
1877 Patron’s Medal The Pundit Nain Singh “for his great journeys and surveys in Tibet and along the Upper Brahmaputra, during which he determined the position of Lhasa and added largely to our knowledge of the map of Asia”
1883 Founder’s Medal Sir Joseph Hooker “for eminent services to scientific Geography”
1887 Founder’s Medal Lieutenant-Colonel T. H. Holdich “for zeal and devotion in carrying out surveys of Afghanistan”
1890 Patron’s Medal Lieutenant F. E. Younghusband “for his journey from Machuria and Pekin to Kashmir, and especially for his route-surveys and topographical notes”
1892 Patron’s Medal Edward Whymper “For his route-map and detailed survey among the Great Andes of the Equator”
1895 Patron’s Medal The Hon. George Curzon for travels and researches in Persia, French Indo-China, the Hindu Kush, and Pamirs”
1898 Founder’s Medal Dr Sven Hedin “for important exploring work in Central Asia”
1901 Founder’s Medal H. R. H. The Duke of the Abruzzi “for his journey to the summit of Mount St. Elias, and for his Arctic voyage in the Stella Polare”
1903 Founder’s Medal Douglas Freshfield “in recognition of his valuable contributions to our knowledge of the Caucasus”
1905 Founder’s Medal Sir Martin Conway “for explorations in the mountain regions of Spitsbergen”
1909 Founder’s Medal Dr. M. A. Stein “for his extensive explorations in Central Asia, and in particular his archaeological work”
1910 Founder’s Medal Colonel H. H. Godwin-Austen “for geographical discoveries and surveys along the North-eastern frontier of India, especially his pioneer exploring in the Karakoram”
1915 Patron’s Medal Dr. Filippo de Filippi “for his great expedition to the Karakoram and Eastern Turkestan”
1916 Patron’s Medal Captain F. M. Bailey “for explorations on the border of India and Tibet … and especially for tracing the course of the Tsang-po-Brahmaputra”
1922 Founder’s Medal Colonel C. K. Howard-Bury “for his distinguished services in command of the Mount Everest Expedition”
1925 Founder’s Medal Brigadier-General C. G. Bruce “for lifelong geographical work in the exploration of the Himalaya … and his leadership of the Mount Everest Expedition of 1922”
1926 Founder’s Medal Colonel E. F. Norton “for his distinguished leadership of the Mount Everest Expedition, 1924, and his ascent to 28,100 feet”
1927 Founder’s Medal Major Kenneth Mason for his connection between the of surveys of India and Russian Turkestan, and his leadership of the Shakshagam Expedition”
1928 Founder’s Medal Dr. Tom Longstaff “for long-continued geographical work in the Himalaya”
1930 Founder’s Medal F. Kingdon-Ward “for geographical exploration, and work on botanical distribution in China and Tibet”
1932 Patron’s Medal HRH. the Duke of Spoleto “for work in the Himalaya”
1934 Founder’s Medal Hugh Ruttledge “for his journeys in the Himalayas and his leadership of the Mount Everest Expedition, 1933”
1938 Patron’s Medal Eric Shipton “for his most distinguished record of mountain climbing”
1952 Founder’s Medal H. W. Tilman “for exploratory work among the mountains of East Africa and Central Asia”
1954 Founder’s Medal Brigadier Sir John Hunt “Leader of the British Mount Everest Expedition”
1956 Patron’s Medal Charles Evans “for contributions to Himalayan exploration”
1957 Founder’s Medal Professor Ardito Desio for geographical exploration and surveys in the Himalayas”
1958 Patron’s Medal Sir Edmund Hillary “for Antarctic and Himalayan exploration”
1968 Patron’s Medal Professor Augusto Gansser “for geological exploration and mapping in the Himalaya”
1974 Founder’s Medal Christian J. S. Bonington “for mountain explorations”
1982 Founder’s Medal Mr Michael Ward FRCS  
Patron’s Medal Mr Douglas Warren CMG  
1999 Patron’s Medal Doug Scott, CBE “for contributions to mountaineering and the knowledge of mountain regions”
2001 Patron’s Medal Reinhold Messner “for contributions to mountaineering and mountain regions”
2003 Patron’s Medal Harish Kapadia “For contributions to geographical discovery and mountaineering in the Himalayas”

No medals were awarded for Himalaya related activities after this till the year 2013.


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