UBES: A Brief History


On August 31st 1961, two graduates of the University of Bristol, Tony Morrison and the late Mark Howell, received a civic send-off by the Lord Mayor of Bristol Alderman Hugh Jenkins with the Vice Chancellor of the University Sir Philip Morris at his side. Mark and Tony were about to embark on a journey around the world in an  with four other graduates in two Austin Gipsys!

Mark and Tony first met each other in the old refectory (now Browns) a few years earlier in 1958; they both felt they were going to fail their finals and decided to put their procrastination to good use by hatching a plan to hitchhike to India. They both passed and went off to work – Mark into the BBC, and Tony continued at Bristol for a CertEd. A year later, they had both become disillusioned with the direction their work was taking them and revisited their ‘expedition’ idea. Mark approached the Austin Motor Company who jumped at the idea and suggested rather than just driving to India, “why not go around the world?”, and so the Transcontinental Expedition was born!

Mark sorted out the transport and Tony sourced funding from Foster Robinson. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, they somehow managed to blag their way into getting the Lord Mayor on board; the Vice Chancellor caught wind of all this and insisted that they should become ‘official’. The University of Bristol Expedition Society (UBES) was formed and other students joined the team. The first meeting of the Society was held in the Perry Room on 27th February 1960 at 3PM. The Senior Common Room (SCR) insisted the bar should be set high with a joining fee of £250 each – that’s half of what Tony could earn in a year as a teacher! The SCR made it plain that the expedition should accomplish some ‘graduate studies’, so projects were drawn up focusing on India and Bolivia.

On return, each member produced an advice sheet for future travellers. They produced an illustrated General Report as thanks to sponsors and to put the Expeditions Society in the front of the regional press. Two films that Tony shot were used by the regional ITV broadcaster – then TWW.

So that was the start of UBES – the University didn’t really engage in expeditions prior to this. The UoB Spelæological Society would take students weekend caving in the Mendips and on longer trips to Ireland, South Wales and Yorkshire. Money was tight, kit was basic, and they often travelled to places by hitchhiking.

Under management of the SCR, the society continued to engage in expedition travel up until the 90s to Afghanistan, Sumatra, India, Sarawak, Sicily, Malaysia, Ecuador, Zimbabwe and the Peruvian Andes. As travel became easier and funding started to run dry, management of the society transitioned from the SCR to students, and more ‘expeditions’ set out.


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