Douglas Mawson

Douglas Mawson bigraphy, stories - An Australian geologist, Antarctic explorer and Academic

Douglas Mawson : biography

5 May 1882 – 14 October 1958

Sir Douglas Mawson, OBE, FRS, FAA (5 May 188214 October 1958) was an Australian geologist, Antarctic explorer and Academic. Along with Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, and Ernest Shackleton, Mawson was a key expedition leader during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

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",Mawson, D: "The Home of the Blizzard, Vol I", page 133, J. B. Lippincott, no date and that the average wind speed for March was 49 miles per hour; April 51.5 miles per hour and May was 67.719 miles per hour.Mawson, D: "The Home of the Blizzard, Vol I", page 134, J. B. Lippincott, no date 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 (south magnetic pole)".


  • Bickel, Lennard [1977] (2001). This Accursed Land, foreword by Sir Edmund Hillary, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd. ISBN 1-84158-141-0.
  • 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. "", 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 1-86436-670-2
  • 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.


Sir Douglas Mawson was buried at the Saint Jude’s Anglican Church in Brighton, South Australia in 1958

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Mawson turned down an invitation to join Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition in 1910; Australian geologist Griffith Taylor went with Scott instead. Mawson chose to lead his own expedition, the Australasian 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 from Hobart on 2 December 1911, landed at Cape Denison (named for Hugh Denison, a major backer of the expedition) 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 winds 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 aeroplane to Antarctica. The aircraft, a Vickers R.E.P. Type Monoplane, 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 1 January 2009, fragments of it were rediscovered by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, which is restoring the original huts.

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, the Far Eastern Party, with Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis, who headed east on 10 November 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 dispersed, but Ninnis was jogging beside the second sled. Ninnis fell through a snow-covered crevasse, and 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 50 m below them, but Ninnis was never seen again.