The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

History of Antarctic Exploration in 30 Objects

This tin of tea was recovered from a cache left for the explorer Commander Scott during his abortive journey to the geographic South Pole in 1902. Setting out from their base on Ross Island on 2 November, a three man team comprising of Scott, Edward Wilson and Ernest Shackleton with 19 dogs, made the first serious attempt to sledge to the South Pole.  A number of caches had been laid by members of the expedition along the anticipated route to sustain Scott’s team on the return journey.

Robert Falcon Scott (1868-1912), a 31 year old Royal Navy officer, was not an obvious choice for leading the first official British expedition to Antarctica.  Scott had no polar experience and yet his natural aptitude and enthusiasm for traveling south, were enough to convince Clements Markham, president of the Royal Geographical Society, that the young officer was the right man to lead.  The National Antarctic Expedition aimed to combine science and exploration, and accordingly the team consisted of a mixture of naval men and scientists. Despite the scientific focus, Scott was given overall command of the expedition and was promoted to the rank of Commander.

Traveling on the purpose built ‘Discovery’, the expedition left British shores on 6 August 1901 and voyaged south via Macquarie Island and New Zealand, eventually reaching antarctic waters in early January 1902.  By 9 January, the team had reached Cape Adare (where Borchgrevink had established his base), but chose to sail on, following the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf to the east, recording weather observations and taking magnetic measurements as they went.  At the Bay of Whales, Scott became the first man to fly over Antarctica when he went up in a tethered hydrogen balloon followed by Shackleton, who took the first aerial photographs of the frozen continent.

Establishing a base at Hut Point on Ross Island the men started to venture out. The team of 50 were largely lacking in polar experience with only one member, Louis Bernacchi, having visited Antarctica previously.  Having had little preparation prior to setting out, the men had much to learn on the ice. On an exploratory trip to Cape Crozier on the other side of the island a party of nine men were caught out in a blizzard.  Whilst trying to return to the Discovery one of the seaman, George Vince wearing only fur-soled boots fell over the cliffs to his death. A later trip to Cape Crozier in October was far more successful, with a party led by Reginald Skelton finding a colony of emperor penguins with well-developed chicks, indicating they had hatched during the harsh winter.

Scott’s attempt to reach the South Geographic Pole proved to be a great disappointment, with the men only reaching 82˚11′S.  Suffering from scurvy and with animosity having broken out between Scott and Shackleton, the team returned to the Discovery.  Scott remained unconvinced that dogs and skis were the most efficient way to travel and wrote of his preference for man-hauling, pulling the sledges without aid.

On 23 January 1903, the relief ship Morning reached Ross Island, but was separated from the Discovery by 8 kilometres of sea ice that had failed to melt during the summer.  The Discovery was stuck; forced to remain in place for another year. Indeed, it was not until the following summer after the careful use of dynamite that the ship was finally free to return home.

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Currently on display at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.