A new role for an old workhorse

The Dundee whalers were built to last. When Captain John King Davis came across Aurora in 1911, the ship was still working, though now owned by a London whaling firm, Bowering Brothers. Davis, who had won his first command as master of Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod in the Antarctic, had been contracted by Douglas Mawson to find a vessel to transport men and materials for the planned Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

There was a snag — Aurora’s owners wanted twice as much money as Mawson was prepared to pay. Davis looked elsewhere, and found a vessel in Newfoundland for a suitable price. But before he sealed a deal, Bowering Brothers came back with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Aurora, now 36 years old, became part of the AAE for a mere 6000 pounds.

Arriving in London from Newfoundland in June 1911, Aurora was given a complete refit, including a repainted hull, a new fore-mast and rigging, new bridge and steering system, new propeller, two new laboratories and improved below-deck accommodation.

Sounding gear from the 1904 Scotia expedition and 40 Greenland sledge dogs were loaded before Aurora left for Cardiff for bunkering with 500 tons of coal, scrounged on credit from a local supplier.

Aurora left Cardiff on 4 August 1911, taking on more coal and fresh stores at Cape Town before arriving in Hobart on 4 November 1911 on the eve of a new Antarctic career.