Xavier Mertz

AAE position: In charge of sledge dogs

Xavier Mertz hailed from Bale, Switzerland, he was one of the four sons of Emil Mertz, a manufacturer of textile machinery. He graduated from the University of Bern, receiving the degree of Doctor of Laws. He was also an experienced mountaineer and an accomplished skier, having won the ski-jumping championship of Switzerland in 1908, and champion of the world in 1909. He was rated as the best mountain climber in Switzerland, and had among his records several first ascensions of the highest peaks in the Alps.

Later he devoted himself to scientific pursuits. He made a specialty of glacier and mountain formations, and later received a doctor’s degree in science from the University of Lausanne.

With Belgrave Ninnis’s help, he took charge of the sledge dogs at Cape Denison. The experience of the two men with the dog teams made them a natural selection for Mawson’s ambitious Far Eastern journey. The party left Cape Denison early in November 1912 aiming to reach the location of Mawson’s previous journey from the east four years before, when he and others reached the South Magnetic Pole.

But 500 km from their base Ninnis — along with a dog team and most of their supplies — was lost in a crevasse fall. Mawson and Mertz began a desperate return march on starvation rations. Killing their remaining dogs, they had covered over two-thirds of the return journey when, on 7 January 1913, Mertz died in their makeshift tent. Mawson left a crude cross over his body and struggled on to Cape Denison.

Half a century later, Mawson’s diary entries provided evidence for medical science to determine the probable cause of Mertz’s death — vitamin A poisoning from eating dog liver.