The biologists

Mawson knew that the study of Southern Ocean and Antarctic life forms and systems would be an important part of the AAE’s scientific output. He was equally aware that biology was not his own scientific strength, so he needed to recruit people able to operate their own program, use their initiative and motivate others.

As chief biologist he selected John Hunter, a 1908 graduate of the University of Sydney with honours in biology and geology. Hunter had since switched to medicine, financing his education by working as a demonstrator in biology for Professor Walter Haswell. Haswell, already well connected within the Antarctic Committee, gave Hunter an inside path to appointment on the expedition.

Charles Laseron, while in many ways as well-equipped as any in the study of science, received his scientific training in the form of a technical diploma. From Sydney’s Technological Museum, which under the curatorship of Joseph Maiden had become a centre for Australian economic botany, Laseron’s experience was practical, as a collector and classifier. What mattered to Mawson was that as ‘biological collector’ he understood ‘something about pickling and skinning’.

Harold Hamilton, the third designated ‘biologist’ appointed, was well connected. He was a collector at the Dominion Museum in Wellington, New Zealand, where his father was the director, and he was strongly recommended by the eminent Australian Museum biologist Charles Hedley. At Hamilton’s request he was sent to Macquarie Island, which his father had visited in 1893.

Charles Harrisson, a Tasmanian marine biologist, was recommended to Mawson by the University of Melbourne palaeontologist Thomas Hall. Mawson was impressed by Harrisson’s ‘illustrative and artistic work’ and his practical experience in conducting a scientific survey on Tasmania’s rugged west coast impressed Mawson.