Lt. Belgrave E. S. Ninnis - Biographical notes

In charge of Greenland dogs - Aurora 1911-1913


Belgrave Ninnis

Single, was educated at Dulwich, England (as was Shackleton) and entered His Majesty's Army, having a commission as Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers prior to joining the Expedition in London. At the Main Base (Adelie Land) he was assisted by X. Mertz in the care of the Greenland dogs. On December 14, 1912, while on a sledging journey, he lost his life by falling into a crevasse three hundred miles east of Winter Quarters.
From Appendix 1, Mawson - Heart of the Antarctic

Belgrave Ninnis was part of a three man party with Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz who in the summer of 1912/13 made up the "Far Eastern Party" using dog teams to travel quickly to the east of the expedition base.

He lost his life on the 14th of December 1912 when he broke through the snow roof of a large crevasse he was crossing with the largest sledge, strongest dog team and much of the food including all the dog food. He was never seen or heard of again.

The loss of food and equipment with Ninnis led indirectly to the death of Mertz about three weeks later and the near-death of Mawson who managed to reach the safety of the base after a protracted and difficult ordeal. The expedition ship Aurora was forced to leave five men behind for another year to search for the missing three when it had to head north to escape the approaching winter.


Taking stores to Aladdin's Cave Mertz Ninnis Murphy

Taking stores to Aladdin's Cave Mertz Ninnis Murphy
Catacombs leading to Hut Cape Denison Ninnis

Catacombs leading to the Hut Cape at Denison with Ninnis

References to Ninnis in Mawson's book "The Home of the Blizzard" buy USA  buy UK

  • Before the ship had reached Queen's Wharf, the berth generously provided by the Harbour Board, the Greenland dogs were transferred to the quarantine ground, and with them went Dr. Mertz and Lieutenant Ninnis, who gave up all their time during the stay in Hobart to the care of those important animals.

  • Ninnis and Mertz ran a tailoring business for the dogs, who were brought one by one into the outer Hut to be measured for harness. After many lengths had been cut with scissors the canvas bands were put through and sewn together on the large sewing-machine and then each dog was fitted and the final alterations were made. The huskies looked quite smart in their "suits".

  • On the morning of August 11 Madigan and Ninnis commenced to sink a deep vertical trench, at one end of which a room was hewn out large enough to accommodate three men. The job was finished on the following day, and we struck the tent and moved to our new abode. The tent was spread over the vertical shaft which served as the entrance. It was a great relief to be in a strong room, with solid walls of ice, in place of the cramped tent flapping violently in the wind. Inside, the silence was profound; the blizzard was banished. Aladdin's Cave it was dubbed - a truly magical world of glassy facets and scintillating crystals.

  • As the plans for the execution of such a journey had of necessity to be more provisional than in the case of the others, I determined to undertake it, accompanied by Ninnis and Mertz, both of whom had so ably acquitted themselves throughout the Expedition and, moreover, had always been in charge of the dogs.

  • Ninnis had a touch of snow-blindness which rapidly improved under treatment. The stock cure for this very irritating and painful affection is to place first of all tiny "tabloids" of zinc sulphate and cocaine hydrochloride under the eyelids where they quickly dissolve in the tears, alleviating the smarting, "gritty" sensation which is usually described by the sufferer. He then bandages the eyes and escapes, if he is lucky, into the darkness of his sleeping-bag.

  • Into one of the fissures, bridged by snow, Ninnis's sledge fell, but fortunately jammed itself just below the surface. As it was, we had a long job getting it up again, having to unpack the sledge in the crevasse until it was light enough to be easily manipulated. Despite the delay, our day's run was sixteen and a half miles.

  • Often enough the dogs broke through the snow-bridges on the morning of the 23rd, but only once were matters serious, when Ninnis's sledge, doubtless on account of its extra weight, again broke through a lid of snow and was securely jammed in a crevasse just below the surface.

  • Mertz was well in advance of us when I noticed him hold up his ski-stick and then go on. This was a signal for something unusual so, as I approached the vicinity, I looked out for crevasses or some other explanation of his action. As a matter of fact crevasses were not expected, since we were on a smooth surface of neve well to the southward of the broken coastal slopes. On reaching the spot where Mertz had signalled and seeing no sign of any irregularity, I jumped on to the sledge, got out the book of tables and commenced to figure out the latitude observation taken on that day. Glancing at the ground a moment after, I noticed the faint indication of a crevasse. It was but one of many hundred similar ones we had crossed and had no specially dangerous appearance, but still I turned quickly round, called out a warning word to Ninnis and then dismissed it from my thoughts.

    Ninnis, who was walking along by the side of his sledge, close behind my own, heard the warning, for in my backward glance I noticed that he immediately swung the leading dogs so as to cross the crevasse squarely instead of diagonally as I had done. I then went on with my work.

    There was no sound from behind except a faint, plaintive whine from one of the dogs which I imagined was in reply to a touch from Ninnis's whip. I remember addressing myself to George, the laziest dog in my own team, saying, "You will be getting a little of that, too, George, if you are not careful."

    When I next looked back, it was in response to the anxious gaze of Mertz who had turned round and halted in his tracks. Behind me, nothing met the eye but my own sledge tracks running back in the distance. Where were Ninnis and his sledge?

  • Frantically waving to Mertz to bring up my sledge, upon which there was some alpine rope, I leaned over and shouted into the dark depths below. No sound came back but the moaning of a dog, caught on a shelf just visible one hundred and fifty feet below. The poor creature appeared to have broken its back, for it was attempting to sit up with the front part of its body while the hinder portion lay limp. Another dog lay motionless by its side. Close by was what appeared in the gloom to be the remains of the tent and a canvas tank containing food for three men for a fortnight.

    We broke back the edge of the neve lid and took turns leaning over secured by a rope, calling into the darkness in the hope that our companion might be still alive. For three hours we called unceasingly but no answering sound came back. The dog had ceased to moan and lay without a movement. A chill draught was blowing out of the abyss. We felt that there was little hope.

  • When comrades tramp the road to anywhere through a lonely blizzard-ridden land in hunger, want and weariness the interests, ties and fates of each are interwoven in a wondrous fabric of friendship and affection. The shock of Ninnis's death struck home and deeply stirred us.

    He was a fine fellow and a born soldier - and the end:

    At 9 P.M. we stood by the side of the crevasse and I read the burial service. Then Mertz shook me by the hand with a short "Thank you!" and we turned away to harness up the dogs.

Landmarks named after /strong>Lt. B.E.S. Ninnis

Feature Name: Ninnis Glacier
Feature Type: glacier
Latitude: 68°22'S
Longitude: 147°00'E
Description:  A large, heavily hummocked and crevassed glacier descending steeply from the high interior to the sea in a broad valley, on George V Coast. Discovered by AAE (1911-14) under Douglas Mawson.

Feature Name: Ninnis Glacier Tongue
Feature Type: glacier
Latitude: 68°05'S
Longitude: 147°45'E
Description:  A broad glacier tongue which forms the seaward extension of Ninnis Glacier. It was recorded (1962) as projecting seaward about 30 miles. Discovered by the AAE (1911-14) under Douglas Mawson and named after Ninnis Glacier.
Variant Name Ninnis Glacier Ice Tongue

Feature Name: Mertz-Ninnis Valley
Feature Type: valley
Latitude: 67°25'S
Longitude: 146°00'E
Description:  An undersea valley named in association with the Mertz Glacier/Mertz Tongue and the Ninnis Glacier/Ninnis Tongue. Name approved 12/71 (ACUF 132).
Variant Names:  Adelie Depression / Mertz-Ninnis Trough


Hangar work Edward Bage, Belgrave Ninnis, Frank Bickerton

Hangar work Edward Bage, Belgrave Ninnis, Frank Bickerton
En route to Australia, Mertz, Corner, Second Engineer Gray, Ninnis

Portrait photogrphy under difficulties! En route to Australia. Left to Right: Mertz, Corner (Second Engineer), Gray and Ninnis


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