The Australasian Antarctic expedition under the command of Douglas Mawson, was intended to explore the little–known east coast of Antarctica, make scientific investigation of Macquarie Island and construct a wireless station to operate as a relay to facilitate communication between Australia and Antarctica.
The wireless station needed to be manned and so five men were left to live on the island when the expedition continued south to Antarctica. George Ainsworth, 33 yo, was a meteorologist and the group leader; Harold Hamilton, 26 yo, was a biologist from New Zealand; Leslie Blake, 21 yo, party surveyor and geologist; Charles Sandell, 25 yo, mechanic and wireless operator; and Arthur Sawyer, 26 yo, also a wireless operator.
Initially, they stayed in one of the sealer’s huts, however the priority was to build their own accommodation and within a week of the ship’s departure they had completed the hut that would be their home for the duration of their stay. As well as sleeping accommodation, the hut included a darkroom, laboratory and shower. They had arrived with three hens and some sheep to provide fresh eggs and some meat and their diet was supplemented by local wildlife, particularly eggs and birds. The shipwrecked remains of the Clyde were helpful in supplying the means for a water tank and timber construction materials.
The next priority was to construct the wireless station: a two-roomed hut consisting of an operating room and engine house. There were bunks here for the operators as they often worked late and access back down the hill was difficult in the dark and often bad weather.
Communication with the outside world was established on February 13, 1912 with an exchange of signals with the SS Ultimaroa. From then on daily weather summaries were relayed to the weather bureau in Melbourne and and communication with Commonwealth Bay was established in February 1913.
Once the huts were built, there was time for further exploration of the island for the scientists — Blake was to survey and map the island whilst Hamilton studied plant and marine life and collected as many samples as possible. They had a tent but generally stayed in caves or sealers’ huts and they needed to carry all their provisions as well as technical equipment for the surveying. As time went on, they managed to distribute some stores around the island in small caches, as well as making improvements to the various old sealers’ huts they were utilising, thereby making there lives a little easier.
The year progressed well for the expeditioners and the Aurora made two visits bringing mail and news of the outside world. The men were happy with the year and the work they were achieving, although all were looking forward to going home in April 1913. However, in March 1913 a message came through from Mawson to say that the expedition would be in the Antarctic for another year and so the station at Macquarie was required to be maintained. The men were given the option of leaving via sealing vessel but all elected to stay until their new return date of late November. A proposed resupply via a sealing vessel was delayed so rationing of supplies was required, coal as well as food, and a larger proportion of their daily diet was sourced from what the island could offer. Additional supplies were finally dropped off in mid–August on a ship that also took Sawyer home, as he had become ill. The Macquarie Island team were now reduced to four people for the remainder of their stay.
As promised, the Aurora was back for them in November 1913 and they finally made it home. The ship also dropped off three meteorologists, led by H. Power, who would take over the weather observations and look after wireless operations during 1914: the island was to continue as a weather and wireless base. A year later in November 1914, the Endeavour arrived to resupply the base and changeover the meteorological crew — tragically this is the same voyage mentioned previously: when the Endeavour left the island, she was never seen again with all on board perishing at sea.
The use of the island as a meteorological station was discontinued after the loss of the Endeavour. The ANARE station was established in March 1948 and has been continuously inhabited since then.
And what became of the five AAE men?
(Biographical information from Mawson’s Huts website — Home of the Blizzard)
George Fredrick Ainsworth: enlisted on his return and survived WWI. On his return in 1918, he became a police inspector in Queensland before transferring to the Prime Minister’s department in 1921 as a foreign affairs officer. He resigned from public service in 1924 and became a businessman, working his way up to general manager of various companies until resigning in 1935. He moved to Sydney in 1937 and pursued various interests, including radio talks about his Antarctic experiences and being briefly employed as a meteorologist again during WWII. He died in 1950. Mt Ainsworth at the southern end of the island is named after him.
Leslie Russell Blake: enlisted on his return to Australia and sadly was killed in France in 1918. Mt Blake, just east of Davis Bay, is named after him.
Harold Hamilton: returned to New Zealand and in 1919 was on the staff of the Dominion Museum in Wellington, where he remained until 1927. He then became the first director of the School of Maori Arts in Rotorua, taking a particular interest in the traditional wood carving. He died in Rotorua in 1937. The highest peak on Macquarie Island is named after him.
Charles J Sandell: Little is known of his life after Macquarie, he appears to have fought in and survived WWI. A bay on the west coast of the island is named after him.
Arthur J. Sawyer: returned earlier than the others due to illness. Returning to New Zealand he appears to have enlisted for war service, but spent at least three years in Nauru. Sawyer Creek, south of Green Gorge is named after him.
Sub Antarctic Wilderness by Aleks Terauds and Fiona Stewart and Macquarie Island by J.S. Cumpston were referenced for this post.