Originally built as a sealer for the Dundee
fleet and strongly built for that purpose as she was likely to meet ice.
The hull was made of oak, sheathed with greenheart and lined with fir. The
bow was a mass of solid wood re-enforced with steel-plate armor. The heavy
side frames were braced by two levels of horizontal oak beams.
Aurora leaving Hobart 2nd December 1911
Aurora at berth in 1915
Photo use -
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania.
Barquentine / 1 funnel, 3
masts / L,B,D 165' x 30.5' x 18.75' - 50.3m x 9.3m x 5.7m / 380 tons /
Hull: wooden / Engine 98 nhp / launched 1876
Pack ice seen on 31st Dec 1911, five men on deck and rigging of the Aurora
A glimpse of the Aurora from within the cavern in the wall of the shelf-ice of the Mertz Glacier Tongue, Commonwealth Bay, Adelie Land
The fo'c'stle head of the Aurora sheathed with ice after a blizzard in Commonwealth Bay
after the expeditions
On a trip from Newcastle, NSW
in 1917 to Iquique Chile with a cargo of coal, the Aurora disappeared with all hands and without
trace. She was posted missing at Lloyd's of London
on the 2nd of January 1918, a suspected casualty of the First World War.
All that remains of the Aurora
today is lying at the bottom of Commonwealth Bay. Three of her anchors, strongly made, forged
in iron, and fathoms of huge anchor cable, links fashioned from billets of iron.
The Aurora had already had a busy
and eventful early life before being involved in any kind of Antarctic expedition
proving her strength and sea worthiness in the stormy Northern and
She was purchased by Douglas Mawson in 1910
as his expedition ship for the The Australasian Antarctic Expedition that
left Hobart for Antarctica on the 2nd of December 1911.
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.
Mawson's base camp was established at Commonwealth Bay,
on the Antarctic coast almost due south of Hobart, to where the Aurora
returned. She left in order not to be frozen in and subjected to
the damaging winter winds and sea-ice and also to be able to bring fresh
On her return she found that Mawson and two
companions, Mertz and Ninnis had left base camp on a long sledging trip, but had not
yet returned and were well overdue.
Captain J. K. Davis, the ship's master,
anchored in whatever shelter he could find beneath the ice cliffs, near
the main Commonwealth Bay base, until either the land party returned or
the ship had to depart. With only rock and kelp to hold an anchor, this
was a dangerous place to be. Even under full steam the ship was in danger
of being blown backwards by hurricane winds blowing from the pole, that
could gust to 80 knots and more.
On two occasions, these winds caused the
anchor chain to fail and much valuable chain was lost. The ship sailed
away up the coast to a hopefully less treacherous area moving back to the
base whenever possible to unload further supplies, but a third time a
terrific gust of wind caused the anchor chain to part.
By the end of January 1913, Captain Davis
had decided to leave a small winter party of six men at the base at
Commonwealth Bay and start on the return voyage to Hobart before the sea
froze and trapped them.
Mawson meanwhile was making his way back to
the base against tremendous odds and as he reached Cape
Denison he saw a departing speck on the horizon - the Aurora leaving
Antarctica for the season. He was greeted by the six who had remained to search
for the sledging party as though he were saved from the
dead, which was not far from the truth. They tried to recall the Aurora by radio
but ice conditions prevented her from returning and the seven men at Cape
Denison resigned themselves to another
winter of blizzards and confinement.
They were well stocked with supplies however and
even made a sledge journey the following spring. On December 12th 1913 the Aurora
returned. By December 24th, their two-year expedition was over and on
February 5th, 1914 the Aurora set sail for Australia.
Expedition 1914-1917, Sir Ernest Shackleton.
The Aurora did not stay away from Antarctica for long,
after a refit in Sydney she was used by Sir Ernest
Shackleton in 1914-1916 for transporting and supplying the "Ross Sea Party"
for his Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
party were to lay depots of food and supplies for Shackleton and his team
that were to attempt to cross the Antarctic continent from one side to the
other via the South Pole.
sailed into McMurdo Sound to be confronted with and delayed by heavy pack
ice. On January the 16th 1915 she was able to begin unloading stores to be
left in a depot.
She continued to
work her way south as far as possible, she anchored to the sea ice when
she could proceed no further and began unloading supplies for sledging
depots. Several groups of men set off with sledges to establish depots and
to try to reach Hut Point where Scott had made his base in 1902.
ship was kept off Tent
Island though there were continual problems with the pack breaking away
meaning that the ice anchors would not hold properly. Over the next month,
the ship moved around in the vicinity of Cape Evans before being able to
reach Discovery Bay on March the 12th and drop anchor. More provisions
were unloaded and one of the earlier sledging parties was taken back
aboard the ship. The intention was for the ship to spend the winter in the
relatively safe waters of McMurdo Sound.
the 6th 1915 a blizzard hit the area blowing ice away from the shore and
parting mooring chains that were holding the ship in place. The Aurora
was stuck fast in the sea ice and taken out to sea into McMurdo Sound with
it. She drifted helplessly in the pack laden with stores and provisions
that were badly needed for the winter and also to enable the shore parties
to lay the depots for those walking across the continent via the pole.
did any of the men in the Ross Sea area know that by now Shackleton's
party and the Endurance were enduring an enforced winter stuck in
the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, pack ice that was to eventually crush and
sink the ship. No-one would ever come to collect the supplies from the
depots that they were to so diligently lay at a great cost of life and
The Aurora was low on coal and drifting with
the sea ice, the days were very short and midwinter was approaching. The
best those on board could hope for was to drift towards the North East and
push through the pack towards New Zealand. There was an intensity and
desperation to get back to laying the depots across the continent for the
South Pole Party who were never to come.
little that could be accomplished however, attempts were made to radio Macquarie
Island so that messages could be passed but with no success. Contingency
plans were made in case the ship were nipped in the ice. The 18 men on
board planned to take to sledges with rations and set off across the ice
to reach the nearest land.
On June the 8th 1915
the ship's log says "Made
our latitude 75° 59'S. by altitude of Sirius. This is a very monotonous
life, but all hands appear to be happy and contented. The temperature is
Later that month the ship looked
like it was going to be broken by the ice and readiness was made to
abandon her, but she was allowed a reprieve and continued to drift until
the 12th of February 1916 when the ice finally broke up around her finally
releasing the Aurora back to the sea.
She was able
to sail north and was towed into Port Chalmers near Dunedin New Zealand,
by a tug she encountered en route, arriving on the 3rd of April.
New Zealand at the beginning of December, 1916. By
had been repaired and refitted.
Shackleton sailed on
the Aurora from Port Chalmers on December the 20th, 1916, for
McMurdo Sound. They encountered the first ice a week later and entered the
open water of the Ross Sea on January the 7th, 1917.
went ashore at Cape Royds with
a party to look for any records possibly left in the hut. A letter was
found stating that the Ross Sea Party was housed at Cape Evans. Shackleton
was on his way back to the ship when six men, with dogs and a sledge,
appeared in the direction of Cape Evans. At 1p.m. this party arrived on
board and Shackleton learned that of the ten members left behind when the Aurora
broke away on May the 6th
1915, only seven had survived. The Aurora arrived in Wellington New
Zealand on February the 9th.
about Douglas Mawson and this expedition
Historical photographs on this page by
permission of National Library of Australia