Mawson’s fatal journey

Far Eastern party departed Cape Denison 10 November 1912; farthest point 14 December 1912; returned 8 February 1912; distance travelled about 960 km.

In their own words

The two [Mertz and Ninnis] had joined the Expedition together in London, and had been associated longer and in a more intimate manner than any other members of the Expedition. During the winter months we had all been drawn together, but between Mertz and Ninnis there existed a very deep bond. Mertz, in his warm-hearted impulsive way, had practically adopted Ninnis, and his affection was almost maternal. Ninnis, less demonstrative, reciprocated this to the full, and indeed it was hard to dissociate them in our thoughts. It was always “Mertz and Ninnis” or Ninnis and Mertz”, a composite entity, each the complement of the other.

— Charles Laseron, South with Mawson

I cannot sleep, and keep thinking of all manner of things — how to improve the cooker, etc — to while away the time. The end is always food, how to save oil, and as experiment I am going to make dog pem [pemmican from dog meat] & put the cocoa in it. … The tent is closing in by weight of snow and is about coffin size now. It makes me shudder and think of the latter for the moment only. I am full of hope and reliance in the great Providence, which has pulled me through so far. If there were two of us we could make use of this wind but for one it is out of the question.

— Mawson’s entry for 25 January 1912, during his solitary march to survive.

… my best friend in the entire expedition

— Xavier Mertz writing of Belgrave Ninnis in his diary on the evening that Ninnis was lost in the crevasse, 14 December 1912.

On 10 November 1912, Douglas Mawson, Belgrave Ninnis and Xavier Mertz began their ‘Far East Sledging Journey’, using two dog teams to explore the coast to the distant east. They had no notion then, but their journey was to change the whole course and conduct of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

There was an air of optimism and good cheer, with the usual brisk wind but clear skies, as the three men prepared to leave Cape Denison to climb the ice slopes to the plateau. They had carefully planned sledge loads, rations and food depots to keep both the men and the 16 dogs comfortably nourished throughout the two-month trek.

An hour earlier, Mawson had written to his fiancée, Paquita. ‘I have two good companions, Dr Mertz and Lieut. Ninnis. It is unlikely that any harm will happen to us … ’

Ninnis had been more circumspect the night before, in his last diary entry before leaving:

We and the Southern party leave tomorrow. I must close my writing now, maybe for two months, maybe for good and all, for who knows what might happen during the next two months. The hut seems very forlorn with only nine fellows left. I hope I shall pull through all right, and join up with the Terra Nova farthest; and now I will stop.

— Ninnis’s last entry into his diary before departure, Friday 9 November 1912. (He left his papers at Cape Denison and made no further diary record.)

Mawson, Ninnis and Mertz depart Aladdin’s Cave

Excerpt from Mawson the Survivor (1982). © Australian Antarctic Division and the ABC

Mawson, Ninnis and Mertz depart Aladdin’s Cave

Video transcript

Ninnis: Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Hi-hike, hike, hike boys! Hike!

Mertz: Mush, mush, mush!

Ninnis: Hike boys, hike!

Mertz: Hike!

Ninnis: Right, right! Right boys! Right!

Mertz: Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Mush! Come on, come on dogs. Come on!

Mawson (narrating): Any doubts as to the capacity of the dogs to pull the loads were dispelled. And both Ninnis and Mertz are good men. It is unlikely that any harm will come to us.

[end transcript]