Marking an heroic contribution
8th January 2013
January 8, 2013, marks 100 years since the death of Douglas Mawson’s sledging companion, Dr Xavier Mertz.
Xavier Mertz hailed from Basel, Switzerland. He studied patent law at the University of Bern and later, science at the University of Lausanne, specialising in glacier and mountain formations.
Mertz was also an experienced mountaineer and an accomplished skier, having won the ski-jumping championship of Switzerland in 1908, and champion of the world in 1909. He was rated as the best mountain climber in Switzerland, and had among his records several first ascensions of the highest peaks in the Alps.
Mertz was invited to join Mawson’s 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition as a ski instructor and, alongside Belgrave Ninnis, to care for the Greenland huskies. Mertz and Ninnis subsequently accompanied Mawson on the fateful sledging journey to survey King George V Land, departing the main base at Commonwealth Bay on 10 November 1912.
Three weeks later Ninnis fell to his death through a snow-covered crevasse, along with the six best dogs and most of the party’s rations. Mawson and Mertz continued their journey back towards the main base, about 300 miles away, killing and eating the remaining dogs as they went. Mertz died on 8 January 1913, possibly of Vitamin A poisoning from eating husky livers.
The Mertz Glacier on the George V coast of East Antarctica was named by Mawson in his honour.