The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

History of Antarctic Exploration in 30 Objects

This photograph shows four men of the hugely successful Norwegian South Pole Expedition at the South Pole on 14 December 1911.  Taken by Olav Bjaaland, the image commemorates the Norwegian team’s arrival at the Pole.  The explorer Amundsen is shown on the far left, next to Helmwer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel and Oscar Wisting, facing a dark tent erected at the Pole flying the Norwegian flag.  Unlike Scott and Shackleton, Amundsen did not take a professional photographer with him, depending instead on his men’s photographs to record the trip.  The photographer Anders Beer Wilse had taught most of the expedition members how to expose and develop film, however Nansen largely ignored his advice, choosing instead to take a number of shots each with a different speed and aperture – sadly most were found to be useless when developed.  Although the original glass plate for this photograph has been lost, this version of the image was found in an album labelled Tasmanian Views containing an eclectic collection of photographs developed by the photographer J.W. Beattie with the aid of his assistant E.W. Searle in Hobart.

Arriving at the Ross Sea in the middle of January 1911, Amundsen sailed straight for Shackleton’s Bay of Whales, leaving the McMurdo region to Scott and the British expedition.  By choosing to establish his base at the Bay of Whales, Amundsen was 1˚ of latitude closer to the Pole than Scott at Ross Island, saving nearly one hundred kilometres that would not need to be covered by his dog-drawn sleds.  On arrival, the men quickly set about building their pre-fabricated hut, storing their provisions and erecting tents for the dogs.  By the 28 January their base, christened the Framheim, was completed.  As the sea ice started to close in, the Fram set sail to undertake a programme of oceanographic work in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Preparations for the push to the Pole now began in ernest.  Before Amundsen could begin his assault during the following summer, supplies had to be laid along the proposed route.  As the final days of sunlight closed in, the team placed depots at every degree of latitude to 83˚S and marked them with a series of black flags to minimise the chances of getting lost. Nearly one and a half tonnes of food was laid down, enough to sustain a team of eight men. By late April the sun had set and the men were kept busy making improvements to their equipment.  Their sledges were found to be too heavy and clumsy for the smooth icy surface and accordingly were planed down to reduce their weight to one third.  Provisions were taken out of their original packaging and ingeniously packed to save space, clothing was tested for fit, and the dogs were constantly exercised.  With all the team fully occupied the winter passed quickly and easily.

On 19 October Amundsen and his four companions left Framheim with fifty-two dogs pulling four sledges laden with sufficient supplies for sixty days.  The men’s lightweight sledges glided across the ice and the team made rapid progress, covering on average thirty-seven kilometres a day.  By 20 November the team had reached the Antarctic Plateau having a found a new path up through the Transantarctic Mountains by ascending  the Axel Heiberg Glacier.  On the Plateau at a spot they named the ‘Butchers Shop’ they killed more than half of the dogs, feeding the meat to the remaining 18 needed for the ongoing trip.

On the 8 December at 88°23´S, Amundsen’s men passed Shackleton’s furthest south record.  Emboldened, and aided by a spell of good weather the Norwegians reached the Pole area just six days later.  Over the next few days the team surveyed the area, determined to fix the exact point of the Pole so as to avoid any later controversy. The men erected a tent, which they called Polheim, to mark their visit, leaving inside some spare equipment and a short letter to King Haakon of Norway.  Amundsen requested that Scott deliver the letter in case anything should happen to the Norwegian party on the return journey.

With their task achieved, Amundsen and his men began the journey back to Framheim.  The Norwegians, concerned that Scott and the British Expedition were hot on their heels, were determined to get back to civilisation first and share the news of their success.  On 25 January 1912 they reached Framheim, having taken only ninety-nine days to cover the three thousand kilometres.  Amundsen’s meticulous planning had paid off.  The men arrived back fit and healthy having been well-fed throughout, accompanied by eleven surviving dogs.  Within days the expedition had left Antarctica on board the Fram.  On 7 March 1912, news of their achievement was telegrammed from Hobart across the world: the South Pole had been discovered.

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Currently held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra.