Priestley was born at Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. His father was the headmaster of the Tewkesbury grammar school. After graduating from his father's school he read geology at University College, Bristol (1905-07).
Priestley was with Shackleton in The Nimrod Expedition (1907-09).
Scott recruited Priestley and went with him on the Terra Nova Expedition (1910–1912). Priestley carried out separate scientific studies apart from Scott's efforts to get to the south-pole. He was with Victor Campbell as one of the six man party which wintered over (unintentionally) at Terra Nova Bay, in an ice cave nicknamed "Inexpressible Island," for almost 7 months. (See Campbell.)
Priestley survived his poplar ordeals and returned to England in time to serve in the World War One. He went on to a series of academic and government administrative posts in Australia and England.
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