Douglas Mawson


Douglas Mawson : biography

5 May 1882 – 14 October 1958

After a brief service, Mawson and Mertz turned back immediately. They had one week’s provisions for three men and 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 stringy, tough 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."

There was a quick deterioration in the men’s physical condition during this journey. Both men suffered dizziness; nausea; abdominal pain; irrationality; mucosal fissuring; 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 8 January 1913.Bickel, Lennard (2000). Mawson’s Will: The Greatest Polar Survival Story Ever Written, Hanover, New Hampshire: Steerforth Press. ISBN 1-58642-000-3

It was unknown at the time that Husky liver contains extremely high levels of vitamin A. It was also not known that such levels of vitamin A could cause liver damage to humans.Vitamin A toxicity 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 ate more of the liver than Mawson. It is of interest to note that in Eskimo tradition the dog’s liver is never eaten. While both men suffered Mertz suffered chronically. Another theory has suggested the reason he suffered worse was because he had been a vegetarian. A 2005 article in The Medical Journal of Australia by Denise Carrington-Smith, noting that Mertz was essentially a vegetarian, suggested that the sudden change to a predominantly meat diet could have triggered Mertz’s illness. Combined with "the psychological stresses related to the death of a close friend [Ninnis] and the deaths of the dogs he had cared for, as well as the need to kill and eat his remaining dogs," this may have killed Mertz.Carrington-Smith (2005), p. 641.

Mawson continued the final 100 miles alone. During his 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. It 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. In 1916, the American Geographical Society awarded Mawson the David Livingstone Centenary Medal.. American Geographical Society. Retrieved 17 June 2010.