Life Science Lost Antarctic explorers remembered through Hobart memorial plaques

Lost Antarctic explorers remembered through Hobart memorial plaques

New plaques honour lost Antarctic expeditioners Xavier Guillaume Mertz and Belgrave Edward Ninnis.
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More than a century after perishing in Antarctica, two expeditioners who ventured south in the name of science have been remembered in Hobart.

British Army officer Lieutenant Belgrave Edward Ninnis and Swiss mountaineer Dr Xavier Guillaume Mertz were part of the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

They were about 500 kilometres east of their Cape Denison base alongside party leader Sir Douglas Mawson when tragedy struck on December 14, 1912.

Ninnis disappeared down a crevasse, taking with him a team of six huskies and most of the party’s supplies.

“We called and sounded for three hours, then went on a few miles to a hill and took position observations. Came back, called and sounded for an hour. Read the Burial Service,” Mawson’s diary reads.

“Practically all the food had gone down – spade, pick, tent, Mertz’s burberry trousers and helmet, cups, spoons, mast, sail etc.

“We had our sleeping bags, a week and a half food, the spare tent without poles, and our private bags and cooker and kerosene. The dogs in my team were very poorly and the worst, and no feed for them.

“May God Help us.”

Mertz and Mawson were left to walk back to base. They ate the remaining huskies to survive.

Both were struck by the ill-effects of the high vitamin A levels in the dogs’ livers.

Mertz, a Swiss skiing champion who had degrees in engineering and glaciology, died about 200 kilometres from safety while Mawson staggered on alone.

“(He) got within sight of the hut only to see the rescue ship sailing away on the horizon,” Mawson’s Hut Foundation chairman David Jensen told AAP.

“Fortunately six of the team had volunteered to remain behind to search or wait for the missing party. They stayed on for another 10 months before the rescue ship returned in December 1913.”

Swiss Ambassador to Australia Pedro Zwahlen and British High Commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell unveiled bronze plaques at Mawson’s Place in Hobart on Tuesday.

The plaques are just 150 metres from where Mawson’s expedition departed on December 2, 1911.

“It was Australia’s first Antarctic scientific expedition and it was the world’s first truly scientific expedition to the Antarctic,” Mr Jensen said.

Apart from a solitary wooden cross at Cape Denison in East Antarctica, the plaques are the only memorial to honour their lives.

Mr Jensen said recognition was long overdue and will help tell the story of the two men and Mawson’s expeditions.

-AAP