Lt. Belgrave E. S. Ninnis - Biographical notes
In charge of Greenland dogs - Aurora 1911-1913
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.
- 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
- 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 Type: glacier
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.
Ninnis Glacier Tongue
Feature Type: glacier
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 Type: valley
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
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