Scientific equipment

In their own words

Johnnie Hunter and I had to check and complete the lists of all that was necessary for the collection and preservation of zoological specimens at four bases. There were dredges and sieves, skinning knives and forceps, collecting jars and boxes, stores of alcohol, formalin, arsenical soap, and other preservatives, everything, in fact, that we thought might be needed. Betweenwhiles we spent hours at the Australian Museum learning how to prepare the skins of birds and animals for museum purposes. It was a great trouble to get dead birds to practise on, and the keepers of bird-shops no doubt felt very surprised at the sudden demand for pigeons and canaries, and, what is more, they never forgot to charge for what otherwise must have been consigned to the dirt-box.

— Charles Laseron, in South with Mawson: Reminiscences of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911–1914

The meteorological instruments were largely purchased … , but a great number were loaned by the Commonwealth Meteorological Department … [and] the British Meteorological Office … In the matter of equipment [for magnetic work] we were very materially assisted by the Carnegie Institute … An instrument was also loaned … [by] the Christchurch Magnetic Observatory. A full set of Eschenhagen self-recording instruments was purchased … For astronomical work the following instruments were loaned, … : a four-inch telescope by the Greenwich Observatory … : a portable transit-theodolite by the Melbourne Observatory … ; two stellar sidereal chronometers by the Adelaide Observator … The apparatus for bacteriological and physiological work were got in Sydney …

— Douglas Mawson, The Home of the Blizzard

Mawson’s determination to make the AAE the pre-eminent Antarctic science expedition of its time meant finding the best, most accurate, most up-to-date scientific equipment available. Inevitably this required a lot of work in Britain, where the highly-specialised precision instruments needed could be obtained.

Ship-based marine science was to be a big part of the AAE. With a lot of effort by himself and others (notably Davis), Mawson managed to secure most of the oceanographic equipment he wanted. From Bruce, the Admiralty, John Buchanan (formerly of the Challenger expedition) and Prince Albert, he assembled a significant suite of instruments: ‘certainly the best that has yet come into Australian waters,’ as Mawson wrote. Of the few instruments that came from Australia, some were lent by institutions such as the South Australian Museum and the National Museum in Victoria.

The promise of specimens from Mawson’s forthcoming expedition was the main incentive for a potential donor or lender of equipment. Prince Albert, head of a major research establishment, had serious ambitions in marine biology, and was persuaded that his network could be extended as a reward for lending his equipment. Mawson promised to the museums exotic specimens for public enlightenment, such as a stuffed penguin or seal.