Bringing them home

In their own words

On behalf of the Land parties of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, I wish to express our gratitude to the intrepid captain of the Aurora and to his officers and men for bringing the vessel with punctuality backwards and forwards through the ice-packed seas to our relief.

— Mawson, 1914

Aurora’s mission in sailing for Antarctica late in 1912 had been to collect the two parties of the AAE and bring them home. But Mawson’s delayed return from his disastrous sledging journey forced a change in plans. The final homecoming would have to wait another 12 months.

Before departing Hobart Davis collected 21 of Amundsen’s dogs which had survived his South Pole dash, in case they were needed for any rescue work. The journey south was broken by an attempt to locate the charted ‘Royal Company Islands’; the deep ocean soundings in the reported vicinity of the islands confirmed they did not exist.

Aurora arrived at Cape Denison on 13 January 1913 to find he would have to wait for the return of various sledging parties. In typically difficult Cape Denison weather, loading and unloading continued while, one by one, the sledging parties returned — except one, Mawson’s ‘Far Eastern’ group.

As the weeks passed, Davis was becoming increasingly concerned about the Western Party, far to the west on Shackleton Ice Shelf. Frank Wild’s men would be surviving on the supplies landed the previous summer, and there was little time left in the short summer season to penetrate the pack ice and collect them.

By early February and with the Far Eastern party still missing, Davis had made his decision. Five men from the 1911–12 Cape Denison party and a wireless operator from the ship’s company were left to remain another year at Cape Denison, to provide whatever help was needed for the missing party. Aurora left Commonwealth Bay on 7 February.

The ship was only one day out to sea when Davis received the wireless message advising of Mawson’s return and the deaths of his two companions. He promptly turned around, but fierce katabatic winds kept Aurora stranded offshore. With a heavy heart, he was finally forced to leave Mawson and his six companions on 9 February to begin the 1,800 km journey west.

Davis’s anxiety was reflected in his recollection of the journey: ‘one long, continuous battle with the elements’:

When it wasn’t headwinds, fog, gales or pack-ice, it was blizzards or icebergs. We were constantly exchanging one set of troubles for another …

But he made it in time. On 23 February Frank Wild’s Western Party embarked. Three weeks later the ship was back at Hobart, where she was to be laid up for winter before the final, unplanned voyage of the following summer.