The London selections

Mertz's application to join the AAE
Mertz's application to join the AAE.

In his search for leaders in his expedition, Mawson turned first to Britain, with its depth of polar experience in the wake of the earlier Scott and Shackleton expeditions. He found two born leaders among graduates of the tough, testing Antarctic practical school – fellow-veterans of Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition.

Frank Wild (like Mawson, born in Yorkshire) and John King Davis (born in Surrey but with strong Australian connections) came first to his mind. To his great delight, each accepted his offer – Wild to lead one of his shore parties, and Davis to captain the expedition ship (after first selecting it).

Both men had demonstrated to Mawson their capacity to remain calm under pressure. Besides being tough, intrepid and a good companion, Wild ‘had a full quota of sound horse sense’. Similarly Davis, who had commanded Nimrod on Mawson’s voyage home from Shackleton’s Ross Island expedition, had proven himself as reliable, energetic and a master of his maritime calling.

Three other men were selected in London: Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis of the Royal Fusiliers, Dr. Xavier Mertz, a Swiss-German alpinist and skier, and Francis Bickerton, a mechanical engineer.

Ninnis, the 23-year-old son of an Arctic veteran, and Mertz, 28, were together assigned the task of managing the expedition’s dog teams. Youngest of the three was Bickerton, at age 22 already a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who was charged with maintaining the AAE’s aeroplane (or ‘air tractor’, as it became after losing its flying capability in a crash).

This page was last modified on August 5, 2015.