Douglas Mawson: Wikis


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Sir Douglas Mawson
Born 5 May 1882 (1882-05-05)
Yorkshire, England
Died 14 October 1958 (1958-10-15)
Brighton, South Australia
Nationality Australian
Occupation Geologist, Antarctic Explorer, Academic
Known for First ascent of Mount Erebus
First team to reach the South Magnetic Pole
Mackay, David and Mawson raise the flag at the Magnetic South Pole 16Jan1909
Caricature by Sir David Low

Sir Douglas Mawson, OBE, FRS, FAA (5 May 1882 – 14 October 1958) was an Australian Antarctic explorer and geologist. Along with Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest Shackleton, Mawson was a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.


Early work

He was appointed geologist to an expedition to the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu) in 1903; his report The geology of the New Hebrides, was one of the first major geological works of Melanesia. Also that year he published a geological paper on Mittagong, New South Wales. His major influences in his geological career were Professor Edgeworth David and Professor Archibald Liversidge. He then became a lecturer in petrology and mineralogy at the University of Adelaide in 1905.[1] He identified and first described the mineral Davidite, named for Edgeworth David.

In 1907, Mawson joined the Nimrod Expedition led by Ernest Shackleton as an expedition geologist. With his mentor and fellow geologist, Edgeworth David, he was on the first ascent of Mount Erebus. Later, he was a member of the first team to reach the South Magnetic Pole, assuming the leadership of the party from David on their perilous return.

Australian Antarctic Expedition

Mawson turned down an invitation to join Robert Falcon Scott. Terra Nova Expedition in 1910; Australian geologist Griffith Taylor went with Scott instead. Mawson chose to lead his own expedition, the Australian Antarctic Expedition, to King George V Land and Adelie Land, the sector of the Antarctic continent immediately south of Australia, which at the time was almost entirely unexplored. The objectives were to carry out geographical exploration and scientific studies, including a visit to the South Magnetic Pole.

The expedition, using the ship ......SY Aurora commanded by Captain John King Davis, departed Hobart on 2 December 1911, landed at Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay on 8 January 1912, and established the Main Base. A second camp was located to the west on the ice shelf in Queen Mary Land. Cape Denison proved to be unrelentingly windy; the average wind speed for the entire year was about 50 mph (80 km/h), with some approaching 200 mph. They built a hut on the rocky cape and wintered through nearly constant blizzards.

Mawson wanted to do aerial exploration and brought the first airplane to Antarctica. The aircraft, a Vickers REP Monoplane,[2] was to be flown by Francis Howard Bickerton. When it was damaged in Australia shortly before the expedition departed, plans were changed so it was to be used only as a tractor on skis. However the engine did not operate well in the cold, and it was removed and returned to Vickers in England. The aircraft fuselage itself was abandoned. On January 2, 2010 fragments of it were re-discovered by the Mawson's Huts Foundation, which is restoring the original huts.[3]

Mawson's exploration program was carried out by five parties from the Main Base and two from the Western Base. Mawson himself was part of a three-man sledging team with Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis who headed east on November 10, 1912 to survey King George V Land. After five weeks of excellent progress mapping the coastline and collecting geological samples the party was crossing the Ninnis Glacier 480 km east of the main base. Mertz was skiing and Mawson was on his sled with his weight disbursed but Ninnis was jogging beside the second sled. Ninnis fell through a snow-covered crevasse, his body weight is likely to have breached the lid. The six best dogs, most of the party's rations, their tent and other essential supplies disappeared into the massive crevasse. Mertz and Mawson spotted one dead and one injured dog on a ledge 50m down but Ninnis was never seen again.[4]

After a brief service Mawson and Mertz turned back immediately. They had one weeks provisions for three men, no dog food but plenty of fuel and a primus. They sledged for 27 hours continuously to obtain a spare tent cover they had left behind, for which they improvised a frame from skis and a theodolite. Their lack of provisions forced them to use their remaining sled dogs to feed the other dogs and themselves.

Their meat was tough, stringy and without a vestige of fat. For a change we sometimes chopped it up finely, mixed it with a little pemmican, and brought all to the boil in a large pot of water. We were exceedingly hungry, but there was nothing to satisfy our appetites. Only a few ounces were used of the stock of ordinary food, to which was added a portion of dog's meat, never large, for each animal yielded so very little, and the major part was fed to the surviving dogs. They crunched the bones and ate the skin, until nothing remained.[5]

There was a quick deterioration in the men's physical condition during this journey. Both men suffered dizziness, nausea, abdominal pain, irrationality, mucusal fissuring and skin, hair and nail loss, and the yellowing of eyes and skin. Later Mawson noticed a dramatic change in his travelling companion. Mertz seemed to lose the will to move and wished only to remain in his sleeping bag. He began to deteriorate rapidly with diarrhoea and madness. On one occasion Mertz refused to believe he was suffering from frostbite and bit off the tip of his own little finger. This was soon followed by violent raging - Mawson had to sit on his companion's chest and hold down his arms to prevent him damaging their tent. Mertz suffered further seizures before falling into a coma and dying on 7 January 1913.[6].

Husky liver contains extremely high levels of vitamin A. With six dogs between them (with a liver on average weighing 1 kg), it is thought that the pair ingested enough liver to bring on a condition known as Hypervitaminosis A. However Mertz may have suffered more because he found the tough muscle tissue difficult to eat and therefore he ate more of the liver than Mawson .[7]

Mawson continued the final 100 miles alone. During the return trip to the Main Base, he fell through the lid of a crevasse and was saved only by his sledge wedging itself into the ice above him. He was forced to climb out using the harness attaching him to the sled.

When Mawson finally made it back to Cape Denison, the ship Aurora had left only a few hours before. The ship was recalled by wireless communication, only to have bad weather thwart the rescue effort. Mawson, and six men who had remained behind to look for him, wintered a second year until December 1913. In Mawson's book, Home of the Blizzard, he describes his experiences. His party, and those at the Western Base, had explored large areas of the Antarctic coast, describing its geology, biology and meteorology, and more closely defining the location of the south magnetic pole.

Home of the Blizzard

In his book, The Home of the Blizzard, Mawson talked of "Herculean gusts" on 24 May 1912 which he learned afterwards "approached two hundred miles per hour,"[8] and that the average wind velocity for March was 49 miles per hour; April 51.5 miles per hour and May was 67.719 miles per hour.[9] These winds have been referred to as katabatic: "a wind that carries high density air from a higher elevation down a slope under the force of gravity".[10]

Later life

Bust of Mawson on North Terrace, Adelaide in front of the University of Adelaide

Mawson married Paquita Delprat and was knighted, being completely taken up with the Scott disaster and the outbreak of World War I. Mawson served in the war as a Major in the British Ministry of Munitions. Returning to Adelaide he pursued his academic studies, taking further expeditions abroad, including a joint British, Australian and New Zealand expedition to the Antarctic in 1929–31. The work done by the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition led to the formation of the Australian Antarctic Territory in 1936. He also spent much of his time researching the geology of the northern Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Upon his retirement from teaching in 1952 he was made Emeritus Professor. He died at his Brighton home on 14 October 1958 from a cerebral haemorrhage.[11] He was 76 years old. At the time of his death he had still not completed editorial work on all the papers resulting from his expedition, and this was only completed by his eldest daughter, Patricia, in 1975.

His image appeared from 1984-96 on the Australian paper one hundred dollar note. Mawson Peak (Heard Island), Mount Mawson (Tasmania), Mawson Station (Antarctica), Dorsa Mawson (Mare Fecunditatis), the geology building on the main University of Adelaide campus, suburbs in Canberra and Adelaide, a South Australian TAFE institute, and the main street of Meadows, South Australia are named after him. At Oxley College in Burradoo, New South Whales, a sport's house is called Mawson, Named after Sir Douglas Mawson himself. The Mawson Collection of Antarctic exploration artefacts is on permanent display at the South Australian Museum, including a screening of a recreated version of his journey that was shown on ABC Television on 12 May 2008.

See also


  1. ^ "Douglas Mawson". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 2007-10-01. 
  2. ^ CDWS-1 Air tractor tail
  3. ^ Relic of Antarctica's first plane discovered on ice edge
  4. ^
  5. ^ Douglas Mawson. "The Home of the Blizzard". 
  6. ^ Bickel, Lennard (2000). Mawson's Will: The Greatest Polar Survival Story Ever Written, Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press. ISBN 1-58642-000-3
  7. ^ "Man's Best Friend?". Student BMJ 2002;10:131-170 May. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  8. ^ Mawson, D: "The Home of the Blizzard, Vol I", page 133, J. B. Lippincott, no date
  9. ^ Mawson, D: "The Home of the Blizzard, Vol I", page 134, J. B. Lippincott, no date
  10. ^ Australian Antarctic Division - Sir Douglas Mawson
  11. ^ Mawson, Sir Douglas (1882 - 1958) Biographical Entry - Australian Dictionary of Biography Online


  • Bickel, Lennard [1977] (2001). This Accursed Land, foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1841581410.
  • Caesar, Adrian:The White: Last Days in the Antarctic Journeys of Scott and Mawson 1911-1913 Pan MacMillan, Sydney, 1999, ISBN 0 330 36157 0
  • Jacka, F. J. "Mawson, Sir Douglas (1882 - 1958)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, MUP, 1986, pp 454-457.
  • Hall, Lincoln (2000) Douglas Mawson, The Life of an Explorer New Holland, Sydney ISBN 1864366702
  • Mawson, Sir Douglas (no date given) The Home of the Blizzard, being the story of the Australasian Antarctic expedition, 1911-1914 Vol. I, London: Ballantyne Press.
  • Carrington-Smith, Denise (2005), "Mawson and Mertz: a re-evaluation of their ill-fated mapping journey during the 1911-1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.", The Medical Journal of Australia 183 (11-12): 638–41, PMID 16336159 
  • Roberts, Peder (2004), "Fighting the 'microbe of sporting mania': Australian science and Antarctic exploration in the early 20th century", Endeavour 28 (3): 109–113, 2004 Sep, doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2004.07.005], PMID 15350758 

External links

Preceded by
G. W. Card
Clarke Medal
Succeeded by
John Thomas Jutson


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