Sidney Jeffryes

AAE position: Wireless operator (Second year)

In their own words

Little did I dream when the Dr & yourself saw me off at Sydney that I should ever have to write you. You remember how eager I was to make good well it has brought against me the charge of insanity and I am being hounded to death by Dr McLean & other members of the expedition

— Sidney Jeffryes, Winter Quarters, AAE. July 13th 1913 to Mrs Fox, Sydney

Sidney Jeffryes, born in the mid-1880s, hailed from Toowoomba, Queensland. He was a qualified operator with the Australasian Wireless Company, which gave him the technical qualifications for operating the all-important wireless communication system Mawson was intent on setting up.

Jeffryes applied for a position as an AAE wireless operator, but Sawyer and Hannam were selected ahead of him. But with Mawson’s small band of men remaining at Cape Denison a second year, continued radio communication was felt necessary and Jeffryes had his opportunity for an Antarctic winter. His first radio task was to contact Aurora to notify the ship that the missing Mawson had returned to the hut but that his companions had died.

Things did not go quite to plan. Through the early months Jeffryes spent many frustrating nights attempting to make radio contact with the outside world. Then in July 1913 he suffered a mental breakdown. He believed his companions were plotting his murder, and threatened them with court action. He made some bizarre wireless transmissions but Mawson managed to get a message to Macquarie Island warning of the problem.

Soon after, Jeffryes ‘resigned’ from his post. With five months to go until the party could be evacuated with the return of Aurora, he was relieved of all work and cared for by McLean, who had spent the earlier part of the year nursing Mawson back to health. Bickerton stepped into the breach, teaching himself Morse code in the process.

With Jeffryes’ return to Australia in 1914, he was admitted to a mental institution at Ararat, Victoria. In a letter he wrote a few months later he described his time in Antarctica. He made various accusations against members of the small Cape Denison group, referring to the ‘jealousy’ of others at his success in keeping the wireless mast in order, claiming that others deliberately kept him awake at night, that they tried to hypnotise him, and that Mawson put him under a ‘magnetic spell’ which caused his mental condition.

Jeffreys was reported some years later to have recovered from his ordeal.