The finger tappers

Telefunken spark key (morse key) circa 1910
Telefunken spark key (morse key) circa 1910.
Walter Henry HannamArthur J Sawyer on Macquarie Island

Wireless telegraphy was a major part of the AAE’s organization. This was the first Antarctic expedition to use wireless to telegraph information by Morse code to the outside world, so the ‘finger tappers’ at Macquarie Island and Cape Denison would be people of considerable importance.

For the main party at Cape Denison, Sydney-born Walter Hannam was selected as the wireless operator, with Percy Correll from Adelaide as his assistant and mechanic. Both men, besides supervising the setting up of the wireless equipment at Cape Denison, were part of the Macquarie Island set-up team.

Hannam helped Mawson in the selection of the two Macquarie Island wireless operators. The island was of critical importance to the success of this innovation. Two radio operators were appointed: Charles Sandell from the Commonwealth Telegraph Office and Arthur Sawyer from the Australian Wireless Company.

Mawson had rejected Sydney Jeffryes as a wireless operator in his initial selection, but in 1913 the AAE’s Australian manager, Conrad Eitel, with Professor Edgeworth David’s agreement, included him in Aurora’s complement for what was to be the final voyage. As it happened Jeffryes stayed for a year at Cape Denison because of the missing Far Eastern sledging party, but suffered a mental breakdown before midwinter. This was perhaps a testament to Mawson’s ability to select compatible expeditioners.

This page was last modified on July 2, 2014.