Australians under the British

Bernacchi’s Antarctic experience ensured his selection as physicist on Robert Scott’s 1901–1904 British Discovery expedition. He was the first of several Australians to serve with this and ensuing British expeditions under the leadership of Scott or his equally-famous contemporary, Ernest Shackleton.

When Shackleton, who was a lieutenant on the Discovery expedition, decided to mount his own a few years later, the Australian contribution was not just a cash donation from the Commonwealth government. Shackleton’s scientific complement included a Sydney geologist, Tarrant Edgeworth David, who was his chief scientist, and David’s protégé, a young Adelaide geologist named Douglas Mawson. The 1907–09 Nimrod expedition under Shackleton also included John King Davis, who at 25 years of age took over command of the vessel in its last Antarctic voyage in 1909.

When Scott headed south for a second time in 1910 he offered a position to Mawson, who declined because he was organising his own expedition. But of Scott’s three geologists, two were Australians, Frank Debenham and T Griffith Taylor. Like Mawson and David, they would go on to enjoy fame and success in their chosen field.