Captain of the ship and second in command would be John King Davis, of NIMROD fame. From the time the AURORA arrived in London for refitting until her departure for Australia, the scene was busy as alterations and replacements were hurried along in order to fit her for future work in the Antarctic. Stores and gear were purchased as donations rolled in from Europe and Australia. Mawson left London on June 22, 1911, leaving final instructions with Davis for completing the overhaul and sailing her out to Hobart.
The chief objective of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition was to investigate, as far as possible, the stretch of essentially unknown Antarctic coast extending between the farthest west of the TERRA NOVA EXPEDITION and the farthest east of the GAUSS EXPEDITION. Included in the scientific program would be examination of Macquarie Island lying 850 miles south-south-east of Hobart. In addition to land-based work, extensive investigation of the ocean and its floor between Australia and Antarctica was planned. No plans were made to attain the South Pole. From Hobart a course was to be set for Macquarie Island. A small party would land with stores and a hut and proceed to undertake scientific studies over the next year. After leaving Macquarie Island the ship would proceed along the meridian of 158°E longitude until reaching the ice pack. From here every attempt would be made to penetrate the ice to reach the continental mainland whereby a main party, equipped for a year's effort of scientific study and exploration, would be landed. A hut would be built and a Main Base established to enable the men extensive exploration opportunities over the Antarctic summer. The ship would then proceed westward as far as possible, before the end of the summer season, to establish a Western Base party. Having landed several parties, the AURORA would sail and steam her way back to Hobart. The following summer she would return to conclude the expedition and pick up the members of the land parties.
As stated earlier, most of the crew was made up of young graduates of Australian and New Zealand universities. Among the exceptions was Frank Wild, who was appointed in charge of one of the Antarctic wintering stations. Wild had already distinguished himself in the South on both the Scott and Shackleton expeditions. Also appointed in London were Lieutenant B.E.S. Ninnis of the Royal Fusiliers, Dr. X. Mertz, an expert Swiss mountaineer and F.H. Bickerton, in charge of the air-tractor sledge.
of the Adelie Land Station
Dr. D. Mawson Commander of the Expedition Lt. R. Bage Astronomer, Assistant Magnetician & Recorder of Tides C.T. Madigan Meteorologist Lt. B.E.S. Ninnis In charge of Greenland dogs Dr. X. Mertz In charge of Greenland dogs A.L. McLean Chief Medical Officer, Bacteriologist F.H. Bickerton In charge of air-tractor sledge A.J. Hodgeman Cartographer and Sketch Artist J.F. Hurley Official Photographer E.N. Webb Chief Magnetician P.E. Correll Mechanic and Assistant Physicist J.G. Hunter Biologist C.F. Laseron Taxidermist & Biological Collector F.L. Stillwell Geologist H.D. Murphy In charge of Expedition stores W. H. Hannam Wireless Operator and Mechanic J.H. Close Assistant Collector L.A. Whetter Surgeon
F. Wild Leader, Sledge-master A.D. Watson Geologist S.E. Jones Medical Officer C.T. Harrisson Biologist M.H. Moyes Meteorologist A.L. Kennedy Magnetician C.A. Hadley Geologist C. Dovers Cartographer
G.F. Ainsworth Leader: Meteorologist L.R. Blake Cartographer and Geologist H. Hamilton Biologist C.A. Sandell Wireless Operator & Mechanic A.J. Sawyer Wireless Operator
J.K. Davis Master of the S.Y. Aurora & Second in Command of the Expedition J.H. Blair First Officer during the final Antarctic Cruise P. Gray Second Officer C.P. de la Motte Third Officer F.J. Gillies Chief Engineer
* During the second year of occupation the party at the Main Base was reduced to seven: Bage, Madigan, Bickerton, Hodgeman and Mawson, together with S.N. Jeffryes, who relieved Hannam with wireless operations. Added to these officers were a crew of 19, making a total of 24 in the ship's company. N.C. Toucher and later F.D. Fletcher served during the earlier voyages.
On November 4, 1911, Captain Davis arrived at Hobart with the AURORA after a voyage from London taking 100 days. At 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 2, the AURORA departed from Hobart for Macquarie Island. "God speed" messages had been received from all over the world with kind wishes for success coming from Queen Alexandra and His Majesty the King. At dusk, the hills in the distance were silhouetted against the sky as a tiny, sparkling lamp glimmered from Signal Hill indicating a warm farewell. From the AURORA the men flashed back, "Good-bye, all snug on board". Onward they pressed into a shroud of darkness, drawn to the undiscovered lands of the south.
During the night the wind and sea rose into a full gale. Anxieties ran high as immense quantities of deck cargo began thrashing about. The crew constantly worked at the lashings as a thousand gallons of benzene, kerosene and spirits threatened the men with a dousing of toxic vapors. Most of the men passed through a phase of seasickness, but in most cases it passed quickly. The plug in one of the fresh water tanks was carried away allowing seawater to rush in. Thereafter, the drinking supply had to be rationed. The wind increased and on the morning of December 5 the ship was hit with a huge wave which carried the starboard side of the bridge clean away. By the morning of December 8 the seas had subsided to the point where the AURORA could once again steer for Macquarie Island. At daybreak on December 11 they sighted the island. By noon they were along Caroline Cove at which time a boat was lowered and a party rowed to shore. Several hours were spent examining the area, Webb and Kennedy took a set of magnetic observations while others carried some cases of stores to a small, rocky hill to form a depot as it was decided the northern area of the island would be more suitable for a permanent base. They arrived back on the AURORA that evening and Captain Davis set a course for the northern end of the island. Dangerous reefs could be seen with towering waterfalls falling hundreds of feet from the highlands to the lowlands below. They arrived at North-East Bay which lies on the eastern side of a low spit which connects the bulk of the island with a flat-topped hill--Wireless Hill--approximately three-quarters of a mile farther north. Near the end of the spit two small huts were spotted but no human life. Below the huts, upon rocks rising above the surf, lay a small schooner partly broken up. A mile south were fragments of another wreck. Suddenly a human figured appeared in front of one of the huts. He ran back into the hut and soon a whole number of men could be seen jumping and waving at them. One of the men signaled them with flags that the ship on the rocks was the CLYDED, that they had just recently become marooned and that all hands were safe. Besides the shipwrecked crew, some half-dozen men were residents of the island during the summer months for the purpose of collecting blubber. The sealers soon pushed a small boat right across the spit and came out to meet them. They were greatly relieved to hear that Mawson's auxiliary vessel, the TOROA, would be arriving soon and could take them back to civilization.
The unloading was completed by January 19 and it came none to soon. With January more than half over, the AURORA struggled along the coast to drop the eight-man Western Party, led by Frank Wild, on the Shackleton Ice Shelf at Queen Mary Land some 1500 miles from Cape Denison. Back at Cape Denison, the huts were completed by January 30 with the 18 men sleeping inside. By February the winds grew to a point that anything not tied down would be lost. Additionally, anyone caught outside without crampons would find himself in extreme danger. Calm days were so rare that routine chores outside were conducted in hurricane-force winds much of the time. Throughout March and April the wind often gusted to more than 100 miles per hour, occasionally peaking above 200 mph! The average wind speed for every hour of every day in May was 60.7 mph and on May 15 the wind averaged 90 mph over a twenty-four-hour period. On one occasion the 335-pound lid of the air-tractor case was blown 50 yards and, an hour later, was tossed back! The wind dominated their lives throughout the Antarctic winter.
At the end of February, despite dangerous weather conditions, Mawson decided to risk a short sojourn to survey the area. Cecil Madigan, the meteorologist, and Lt. R. Bage, the astronomer, joined Mawson on the trek. They planted flags, to guide the returning party, and managed to make 5.5 miles before weather forced them to turn back. One of the most important projects was to build two radio masts. Started on April 4, the job was not completed until September 1. Some of the work had to be done in 60 mph winds and on October 13 the whole system came crashing to the ground. However, during the few weeks that the antenna system was operational, messages transmitted to the AURORA and Macquarie Island were received but nothing was received on Mawson's end. Communication was not reestablished until February 13, when two-way communication between Adélie Land and Macquarie Island was achieved for the very first time.
Mawson instructed all men to return no later than January 15 as the AURORA was expected to be waiting for them. The Southern Party, led by Bage, struck out in gale-force winds as Webb took complicated magnetic readings to help guide them towards the magnetic pole. On November 22, after traveling 65 miles, the Support Party returned to Main Base as the three men, comprising the Southern Party, continued south on their 600-mile round trip. The temperatures were still cold at night and were typically below -20°F. They reached their farthest south on December 21 when time and food were running short. Webb calculated they were about 50 miles short of the south magnetic pole. The Near and Eastern Coastal parties had left Main Base on November 8 to rendezvous with Mawson's Far Eastern Party 18 miles southeast of Aladdin's Cave. Part of the Near Eastern Party's function was to provide support for the other two. They then worked along the coast between Cape Denison and the Mertz Glacier Tongue. Without a doubt, the Eastern Coastal Party, led by Madigan, enjoyed the most beautiful scenery of the expedition. By December 10 they had crossed the hazardous Mertz Glacier and, with rations for four weeks, tackled the Ninnis Glacier. The party's farthest east camp, on a rocky cliff called Horn Bluff, was pitched on December 18...they were 270 miles from Cape Denison. On the return trip they were delayed by blizzards and deep, soft snow while re-crossing the Mertz Glacier. They finally reached a food cache on Mt. Murchison after three days on nothing more than a mug of penguin broth each.
Mawson and his three-man party left Main Base on November 10, 1912. By the end of November they had made it across the heavily crevassed Mertz Glacier and were now facing the "tumultuous and broken" Ninnis Glacier where progress "amid rolling waves of ice" was slow. For three days, from December 6 to the 9th, the party remained trapped by a 70 mph blizzard. On the 9th the dogs and sledges were dug out of the snow and the men proceeded on. On December 13 one of the sledges was discarded and on the 14th, Dr. Xavier Mertz, ahead on skis, signaled that he had spotted another snow-covered crevasse. Mawson made it across easily but Mertz cried out as Ninnis suddenly disappeared. Mawson turned around and was horrified to see Ninnis, the sledge and all the dogs gone. Rushing to the edge of the crevasse, the men stared down into a deep, gaping hole where, on a ridge some 150 feet below, was a dog, whining, its back apparently broken. Beneath that was only the abyss. Mertz and Mawson called into the depths for over three hours. They gathered all the rope they had but still could not even reach as far as the dog. They were in serious trouble as Ninnis's sledge, pulled by the six fittest dogs, had carried most of the indispensable supplies, including the tent, most of the food and spare clothing. The remaining sledge carried only 10 days of rations for the two men and nothing for the six dogs...they were 315 miles from Main Base.
However, Mawson was greeted as though back from the dead by six men left behind to continue the search. The AURORA was immediately recalled by radio but ice conditions prohibited the ship from returning. At Cape Denison, the seven men reconciled themselves to another winter of blizzards and confinement. But, they were well stocked with supplies and the repaired radio antenna survived all the spectacular blizzards. Mawson, Madigan and Hodgeman made a sledge trip in late November and on December 12 the AURORA returned. By December 24, 1913, their two-year expedition was over and on February 5, 1914, after more than a month of sailing along the Antarctic coast, Captain John Davis steered the ship northward. The AURORA entered Gulf St. Vincent on February 26. Mawson wrote, "The welcome home, the voices of innumerable strangers--the hand-grips of many friends--it chokes me--it cannot be uttered!"
As for the eight-man Western Party under Frank Wild, conditions were severe but not nearly as difficult as those at Main Base. The men settled into their hut, "The Grottoes", towards the end of the 1912 sledging season. An early disappointment was the destruction of the radio mast in the first blizzard. Throughout the winter the men worked each day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Winds blew up to 100 mph and nearly buried the hut in snow. Depot-laying trips were still made as early as August and sledge parties later explored and mapped the nearby coastline. Wild's push to the east was brought up short due to severe crevasses in the Denman Glacier, 120 miles from base. The western team crossed the Helen Glacier and discovered extensive penguin rookeries in the process. By Christmas Day they reached Gaussberg, discovered some ten years earlier by Erich von Drygalski. The entire party was picked up by the AURORA on February 23, 1913.
An aerial survey by S.A.C. Campbell and E. Douglas on the last day of 1929 revealed indistinct icescapes, probably continental, at latitude 68°11'S, longitude 65°10'E. Mawson and Campbell flew on January 5, 1930, and confirmed an extensive new coast of ice cliffs and rocky mountains. Mawson named the discovered area MacRobertson Land. On January 13 a party landed on a steep offshore island and named it Proclamation Island. The British flag was raised and the claim to full sovereignty of the territory, including Enderby Land, Kemp Land and MacRobertson Land south of latitude 60°S and between latitudes 47° and 73°E, was read to a small shore party and a few penguins. Mawson wanted to stay longer but since this was never intended to be anything other than a summer expedition, Captain Davis insisted they head north rather than run the risk of running short of coal and becoming stuck in the ice. An attempt was made to obtain additional coal from a South African factory ship but inclement weather prohibited this so they sailed for Australia, via Kerguelen.
Douglas Mawson was born in Yorkshire and came to Australia as a boy. He studied geology under Edgeworth David at Sydney University and was appointed a lecturer at Adelaide University in 1905. He was appointed Professor of Geology in 1920. Mawson retired from the university in 1952 and died in 1958, the last leader from the heroic era.
The Heart of the Antarctic, by Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Antarctica; the Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent, by Reader's Digest.
Antarctic Days with Mawson, by Harold Fletcher.
Shackleton, by Roland Huntford.
"The Home of the Blizzard", by Sir Douglas Mawson
"Antarctica: The Extraordinary History of Man's Conquest of the Frozen Continent", second edition by Reader's Digest
"Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events", by Robert K. Headland
"Antarctic Days with Mawson", by Harold Fletcher