Sir Douglas Mawson
1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition
leaves Hobart on 2nd December 1911 aboard the S.Y. (steam yacht) Aurora
Pack ice first sighted on 31st Dec 1911
The Aurora seen from within a cavern of the
Mertz Glacier Tongue, Commonwealth Bay, Adélie Land
The fo'c'stle head of the Aurora sheathed
with ice after a blizzard in Commonwealth Bay
|Douglas Mawson was born in
Yorkshire and moved to Australia as a boy. He studied geology at Sydney
University and was appointed a lecturer at Adelaide University in 1905.
He had been a part of
1907-09 Nimrod expedition when he was a part of a party that successfully
reached the magnetic south pole along a difficult route.
Robert Scott had offered
Mawson a coveted place on the Terra Nova expedition. Mawson turned
this down, instead he was planning his own expedition to chart a 2000
mile stretch of Antarctic coastline directly south of Australia. The expedition
was supported by the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science
who contributed significant financial help.
The other members of the expedition were
largely from Australian and New Zealand universities. The ship used was
built in Dundee and bought from Newfoundland, she was refitted in London
before sailing to Hobart where the team members would board her.
The plans for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition
were ambitious and far ranging in terms of scientific data to be gathered
but did not involve any attempt to reach the south pole. Oceanic survey
was planned and in particular a survey of Macquarie Island some 850 miles
south east of Hobart. The ship would then head for the Antarctic mainland
where a hut would be built and equipped for a party to spend a year, another
party would then be dropped off along the coast and would then be picked
up the following year.
The Aurora departed from Hobart
on December 2nd 1911 for Macquarie Island. Characteristically for expeditions
at this time in wooden sailing ships with auxiliary engine power, the rough
seas encountered caused anxieties. The first night the wind rose to a full
gale. Large quantities of deck cargo began moving around and the crew had
their work cut out to secure the lashings in the teeth of the storm. A plug
in one of the fresh water tanks was washed away and seawater rushed in resulting
in the drinking supply being rationed afterwards.
Rough weather continued for the next few days and a
huge wave carried away one side of the bridge (fortunately without any
loss of life). Eventually the weather abated and on December 11th Macquarie
Island was sighted. At the northern end of the island they came across the
crew of a recently wrecked ship, the Clyde who could be returned
to civilization by the auxiliary vessel, the Toroa. Establishing
a base on Macquarie Island was the first objective of the expedition, a
base hut and wireless station were soon erected with the Aurora leaving
a party of men here sailing again for the south on 23rd December.
They reached a place that Mawson named Commonwealth Bay
on January 7th 1912. A boat was lowered and rowed towards shore. This was
an area of a great concentration of wildlife, Weddell seals and Adelie penguins
were abundant, the latter in thousands. This was the only point on the Antarctic
continent that anyone had stood on in a distance of about 2000 miles, it
was named Cape Denison and became the center of operations for the expedition.
The Aurora was unloaded and work began on the building of the huts,
the Aurora had to leave as soon as she could to drop another field
party, the eight man "Western party" led by Frank Wild 1500 miles further
along the coast.
It turned out that Mawson had
found one of the windiest spots on earth to establish a base.
The winds grew in strength as the short
Antarctic summer came to an end, by February anything that was not tied
down was blown away. When the men left the safety of the huts it was
vital to be wearing crampons - metal "claws" that fitted onto the bottom
of their boots. Without them they would be in real danger. Calm days or
even calm periods were so rare that ordinary outdoor activities had to be
conducted in fierce winds. Through March and April the wind often gusted
over 100 miles per hour and occasionally to over 200 miles per hour.
The wind was to dominate the men's' lives in this place.
An attempt to make an exploratory journey
was made by Mawson and two companions at the end of February, they managed
five and a half miles before they thought better of the weather conditions
and turned back to base once again. One of the projects of the expedition
was to build a radio mast, a job started on April 4th but not completed
until September 1st due to the weather, on October 13th the whole system
was blown down, but not before signals were successfully sent to the
Aurora and to Macquarie Island.
The long dark winter days were passed in
routine and preparation work for the sledging season to come. In August
a party of three led by Mawson struggled out and managed only five and a
half miles before they dug an ice shelter where they left a supply depot,
this was named Aladdin's Cave and later was further filled with supplies.
Other sledging parties set out when the weather was more in their favour,
one such party managed only two and half miles before returning, though
one covered fifty miles before returning frostbitten and exhausted.
The story continued
Historical photographs on this page by permission
of National Library of Australia
The crew of the Aurora
The SY Aurora