Geology and geophysics of Antarctica: The early Australian story

Category Geophysic
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Branagan, David
Holding Date 03 September 2008

The location of the South Magnetic Pole was a long-sought goal for geophysicists, and is linked to the general study of the earth’s magnetic field. An important even in this study was the d’Entrecasteaux Expedition, which carried out measurements on Tasmania in 1792. Almost fifty years later James Clark Ross, discoverer of the north magnetic pole, reached south on the H.M.S. Erebus & Terror expedition, naming the two volcanoes for his ships, noting Mt. Erebus in eruption, recording in 1841 an inclination of his needle of 880 33’, causing him to believe he was only 174 miles away ’in a W. by S. (true) bearing’ from the south magnetic pole. Through Ross a magnetic station was set up at Hobart, Tasmania in 1840, with the support of the later ill-fated Arctic explorer Governor Sir John Franklin. Observations continued until 1854.
Australian attention was directed towards geological aspects of the little known far south region when steam-driven H.M.S. Challenger arrived in Australian ports in 1874 with rock samples dredged from the southern ocean deeps.
In the 1880s Antarctic exploration committees were set up by several Australian scientific bodies. An offer from Sweden in 1890 to fund a joint expedition was oversubscribed in Australia, but the offer was withdrawn in 1893.
In 1894, the Norwegian Svend Foyn sent the Antarctic, with H.J. Bull of Melbourne on board, and the Norwegian-born surveyor/teacher C.E. Borchgrevink. He was possibly the first person to set foot on Antarctica, at Cape Adare on 24 January 1895. From late 1898 Borchgrevink led an expedition, with a small scientific staff, including Australian-born L.C. Bernacchi, which was the first party to winter over. Australian geological/geophysical work effectively began with the participation of T.W. Edgeworth David on the Shackleton expedition of 1907-09. David was instrumental in gaining considerable financial and logistical support for this expedition, the appointment of his former pupil D. Mawson and return voyages for two other Australian geologists L.A. Cotton and W.L. Hammond. David’s work on this expedition is legendary. Aged fifty he led the first successful climb of Mt. Erebus in 1908, and man-hauled sledges with Mawson and A.F. Mackay to the elusive locality of the South Magnetic Pole.
David’s assistance ensured the strong Australian support for Scott’s second expedition, particularly the appointments of the Australian geologists, T. G. Taylor and F. Debenham, and the return of R. Priestley (replacing the New Zealander, J.A Thomson).
David on the other hand gave a warm welcome to Amundsen when he returned from his successful polar journey, at a time that British sensibilities were somewhat offended.
David’s enthusiastic and effective support, having the ear of government, meant help for the poorly-equipped Japanese expedition (1911), Mawson’s Australasian expedition (1911- 1914), Shackleton’s last ambitious project, and continued through the Australian activities until the 1930s.