James Francis Hurley (1885-1962)

James Francis (Frank) Hurley
James Francis (Frank) Hurley (Photo: Unknown)
The efforts of Whetter and Close to get ice at Cape DenisonThe Aurora in McMurdo Sound nearing Cape Evans, glass lantern slide, hand colouredThe Aurora in McMurdo Sound waiting for break-up of the ice picture, glass lantern slide, hand colouredThe castaways adrift on the sea ice. Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild are standing together at the left of the picture [Ocean Camp, Weddell Sea, Shackleton expedition, November 1915]Frank Hurley filming a Weddell seal with his J A Prestwich cine cameraFrank Hurley washing cine film aboard the Aurora

Nationality and occupation

Australian documentary photographer and Antarctic explorer


  • 1911-14– Expedition photographer for Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE)
  • 1914-16 – Official photographer for Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
  • 1917-18 – World War 1 photographer and Captain in the Australian Imperial Forces
  • 1929-31 – Official photographer for Douglas Mawson's British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE)
  • 1939-45 – World War 2 photographer in the Australian Forces.

Frank Hurley is an icon of both Australian documentary photography and Antarctic exploration. He began his photographic career in 1909 when, at the age of 24, he persuaded Douglas Mawson to take him as official photographer on his 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

Hurley's motion picture images of men blown backwards by the driving katabatic winds at Cape Denison brought the magic and power of Antarctica to ordinary people. He also took part in a record-breaking sledging journey (averaging 66 km per day) to the South Magnetic Pole.

As official photographer on Shackleton's ill-fated 1914–17 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition, Hurley risked his life to preserve the motion-picture films and glass-plate images that recorded the extraordinary events of 1916.

Trapped in pack ice, Endurance was crushed and all hands abandoned the vessel to camp on floating ice hundreds of miles out to sea. With the ship about to sink at any time, Hurley dived into the freezing water and retrieved his submerged films and plates. Later, with the team facing a long man-haul across the sea ice, he bargained with Shackleton to let him keep 120 glass plates while the remaining 400 were smashed on the ice. He was also required to replace his photographic equipment with a small pocket camera, with which he later photographed Shackleton departing on the epic whaleboat voyage in the James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

Hurley served in Europe as an official photographer with the AIF from 1917–18, producing the only colour-plate photographs of the war. Hurley subsequently returned to Antarctica with Mawson during the 1929–31 British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition documenting the voyages, air surveys and the claiming of what would become the greater part of Australian Antarctic Territory.