This memorabilia highlights Frederick Douglas Fletcher's career at sea and notably includes material relating to his service as second officer aboard the AURORA during Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1912 - 1913.
SignificanceThis collection of memorabilia relating to the career of Frederick Douglas Fletcher at sea in the early 19th century includes original photographs, autographs and associated material relating to Douglas Mawson's 1912 - 1913 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
HistoryDouglas Mawson was born in Yorkshire, England in 1882 and was just two when his family moved to Sydney. Educated first at Fort Street Model School and then (from age 16) at the University of Sydney, Douglas graduated in Engineering and Science. As an undergraduate he made a geological survey of the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) and produced one of the first major works on the geology of Melanesia.
He studied the geology of Mittagong with T. Griffith Taylor, later to make his mark in Antarctic science, and during this time came under the influence of Professor Edgeworth David, a leader in Australian geology.
Mawson became lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide in 1905, describing radioactive minerals from Radium Hill and undertaking extensive fieldwork in the Flinders Ranges, where he studied past glacial activity, and Barrier Range, including Broken Hill. It was this latter study which brought him into contact with GD Delprat, a mining engineer, whose daughter Paquita he would marry in 1914.
In November 1907 Mawson met Ernest Shackleton in Adelaide with a view to joining Shackleton's proposed British Antarctic Expedition to study glaciation in action. Shackleton appointed him physicist for the expedition and departed that summer for the Ross Sea. Mawson was 26. Also on the expedition was Mawson's mentor, Edgeworth David.
Mawson was a member of the team led by David which climbed Mount Erebus, Antarctica's only active volcano, in March 1908. The following summer, again in a party led by David, Mawson journeyed on foot for over 2000 km to the area of the South Magnetic Pole and back to the Ross Sea coast. The expedition almost ended in disaster, with David crippled by cold and Mawson having to be rescued from a crevasse.
Back in Australia, Mawson determined to return and explore the coast to the west of Cape Adare, due south of Australia. He contacted Robert Scott, who was planning an attempt to reach the South Pole and invited Mawson to join his South Pole sledging party. However, after some diliberation, Mawson decided to lead his own expedition.
After an enormous fund-raising effort, he raised the capital and put together the equipment, supplies and men for his own 'Australasian Antarctic Expedition', which departed Hobart aboard the ship AURORA, captained by John Davis, in December 1911. On Macquarie Island he left a small communications crew who would relay the first wireless signals from Antarctica to the world.
Mawson set up two Antarctic exploring bases, one on Shackleton Ice Shelf under Frank Wild and the main base under his leadership at Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay, south of Tasmania. At each base he and his men undertook a series of scientific investigations, including intensive land exploration along the coast and into the hinterland. The Commonwealth Bay base he later called 'The Home of the Blizzard' because of its exceptionally powerful and persistent katabatic winds.
Mawson himself led the 'Far Eastern' sledging expedition with Belgrave Ninnis, an English army lieutenant, and Xavier Mertz, a Swiss doctor. The expedition was five weeks old and 500 km out when disaster struck: Ninnis, with one of the two sleds and most of the party's supplies, was lost down an immense crevasse. Mertz was to die on the return journey, possibly from Vitamin A poisoning from eating the livers of husky dogs. But Mawson survived after an epic solo journey during which he had to haul himself on the end of a rope out of a deep crevasse.
Mawson returned to the base only to see the AURORA on the horizon on its way to collect the Western party under Wild. The ship was unable to return because of the risk of being beset by ice and Mawson (with six of the AURORA's crew left to search for him) spent the winter in Mawson's hut before being picked up the following summer.
On Mawson's return to Adelaide, he was treated as a hero and his great achievement as an Antarctic leader and scientist were later recognised with a knighthood. In 1914 Douglas Mawson married Paquita Delprat.
Mawson returned to the Antarctic twice more, in 1929 and 1931, as leader of the first and second British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions (BANZARE). Sir Douglas Mawson died in 1958 at the age of 76.
[Mawson biographical information taken from Australian Antarctic Division 'People of Antarctic history’].
According to Frederick Douglas Fletcher's diary entries, he joined the AURORA on 18 April 1912 and remained with the ship until 18 March 1913 when he was paid off at Hobart.