Australian explorer, geographer, and aviator Hubert Wilkins pioneered flight at both Poles. Having participated in Arctic expeditions, including a trans-Arctic flight for which he was knighted, Wilkins first visited Antarctica in 1920 on the British Graham Land Expedition led by John Lachlan Cope. The following year, Wilkins joined Ernest Shackleton’s Quest expedition to sub-Antarctic South Georgia, making ornithological observations on the way.
Inspired by the success of his flight over the Arctic, Wilkins carried out the first aerial exploration of Antarctica at Graham Land in 1928/9. Although many of his observations were disproved by later expeditions, his bird’s eye view influenced further exploration.
In 1933, Wilkins joined American Lincoln Ellsworth’s three private attempts on the first trans-Antarctic flight. In 1935, Ellsworth, together with pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, successfully completed the first flight across the continent from Dundee Island to the Ross Ice Shelf.
In 1938, Wilkins again joined Ellsworth’s Antarctic expedition sailing on the Wyatt Earp with two aircraft. Before departure, Ellsworth had assured Wilkins that he had no intention of claiming land in Antarctica. However, on the voyage he informed Wilkins of his plans to map land that had previously been claimed but not seen. Resolving to reassert Australian sovereignty over territory claimed by Mawson, Wilkins flew to the northernmost point, landing at the Rauer Islands, then on to the southwestern and the northeastern extent of the Vestfold Hills. He flew the Australian flag and deposited a record of the visit in a rock cairn at each site.
Honours and awards
In Antarctica, Wilkins Island, Wilkins Sound, the Wilkins Ice Shelf and Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey station have been named in his honour.