A Queensland surveyor, C.E. Borchgrevink, claimed to be the first man to land on the Antarctic continent. He had joined a Norwegian whaling expedition which in January 1895 landed at Cape Adare. Four years later a Tasmanian meteorologist, Louis Bernacchi, was in the first party to spend a winter on the continent.

Bernacchi was later a member of the 1901-4 British National Antarctic Expedition, led by Captain Robert Scott. Australians took part in the three subsequent British expeditions. The geologists Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson were members of the 1907-9 expedition led by Ernest Shackleton and they were the first to climb Mount Erebus in 1908. Two other Australian geologists, T. Griffith Taylor and Frank Debenham, were on the ill-fated expedition led by Scott in 1910-12 and they made a detailed survey of the western shore of the Ross Sea. The photographer Frank Hurley was one of several Australians on Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition in 1914-17. Captain J.K. Davis commanded the Aurora which rescued the survivors at Cape Evans in 1917.

Mawson organised and led the 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, with Davis as his deputy. He established a meteorological station at Macquarie Island and the main base at Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay. The geologist C.T. Madigan led an eastern sledging party which collected significant data on ice and discovered a coal-bearing rock formation. Mawson himself led a southern sledging party. His two companions perished and he alone struggled back to the base camp. In 1928-29 the Australian aviator Hubert Wilkins, who had already explored Arctic regions by air, made the first aerial surveys of the Antarctic. He later made a further four expeditions to the Antarctic. In 1929 Mawson returned to the Antarctic as leader of the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition. Based on the ship Discovery, and using small aircraft, the expedition surveyed 1500 miles of coastline and many islands. It established the existence of an Antarctic continent, as distinct from island masses linked by the ice cap.

In 1933 the Australian Antarctic Territory was created by a British Order in Council and the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act. The Antarctic Division of the Department of External Affairs was set up in 1948 to administer the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE). Stations were established at Mawson in MacRobertson Land in 1954 and Davis in Princess Elizabeth Land in 1957.


Apart from books, reports and some hydrographic charts, the first Antarctic records acquired by the Library were papers of Thomas Vere Hodgson, a member of the 1901-4 British Antarctic Expedition. They were donated by his family in 1937. Thomas Griffith Taylor presented many of his papers and books in 1954-55 and further papers were received from his widow in 1963. The photographs and papers of Frank Hurley were purchased from his family in 1963-66. The papers and photographs of Douglas Mawson were purchased from the London book dealer, Francis Edwards, in 1980. The papers of John Béchervaise were purchased from him in 1989 and further papers were received from his executor in 1998. Phillip Law donated his papers in 1998-2003.



References to the Antarctic can be found in many manuscript collections. The following are the principal collections documenting expeditions in the Antarctic.

MS 203

Diaries kept by Arthur Scholes on the ANARE expedition to Heard Island, 1947-51

MS 223

Papers of Thomas Vere Hodgson, a member of the 1901-4 British National Antarctic Expedition. They include notebooks, diaries, correspondence, photographs and typescript articles on Antarctic subjects.

MS 482

Records of the Australian National Research Council, including minutes and papers of its Antarctic Committee (1927-35) and papers on an Antarctic expedition (1947).

MS 883

Papers of Frank Hurley, the photographer on the Antarctic expeditions led by Douglas Mawson (1911-14 and 1929-31) and Ernest Shackleton (1914-17). They occupy eight boxes and include diaries (1912-17, 1929-31), press cuttings, and the typescript of Shackleton’s argonauts (1948).

MS 1003

Papers of Thomas Griffith Taylor, the senior geologist on the British Antarctic Expedition in 1910-13. Housed in 56 boxes, they include a diary, sledging diaries, correspondence, letterbooks, manuscripts of articles, papers on glacial studies, and books.

MS 2806

Diaries and papers of John Hunter, chief biologist on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14.

MS 6595

Papers and photographs of John C. Whiting, a pilot who undertook survey flights in Antarctica in 1965.

MS 6650

Papers of Sir Douglas Mawson, mostly relating to Macquarie Island. They include diaries and logs (1912-13) and a report by Mawson on the island’s soils (1915). There are also logs kept on the Discovery (1930-31).

MS 7972

Papers of John Béchervaise, leader of three ANARE expeditions to Heard Island and Mawson (1953-60). A very extensive archive (78 boxes), they include extremely detailed diaries and daybooks, correspondence, photographs, poetry and research papers and drafts of his biography of John Rymill.

MS 9165

Diary and scrapbooks kept by Robert Summers, a medical officer on the ANARE expedition to Mawson in 1954.

MS 9234

Letters and cuttings of Captain John King Davis concerning his book High altitude, 1962-63

MS 9273

A diary and papers of Sydney Evan Jones, a medical officer on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14

MS 9392

Diaries of Leslie Gibbney, a biologist on the 1950 and 1952 ANARE expeditions to Heard Island.

MS 9442

Diaries and scrapbooks of Fred Elliott, a weather observer on ANARE expeditions to Heard Island and Mawson, 1953-58

MS 9452

Papers of D.A. (Duncan Alexander) Brown, a member of the ANARE expeditions to Macquarie Island (1956), Mawson Station (1958) and Davis Station (1961). They include a diary of a traverse south of Mawson, personal messages, newsletters, photographs and slides.

MS 9458

Papers of P.G. Law, senior scientific officer (1947-48) and leader of 23 ANARE expeditions to the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic (1949-66). They are the largest of the Antarctic collections (105 boxes). They include voyage diaries, personal documents, correspondence, reports, navigational records, meteorological records, manuscripts of books and articles, press cuttings, scrapbooks and publications.

MS 9635

Papers of Elizabeth Chipman documenting her work in the Antarctic Division, her three visits to Macquarie Island (1967-75), and her research on Australians in the Antarctic.


The earliest Australian maps of Antarctica in the collection are photographic copies of manuscript maps in the Mawson Collection and a glass slide of a map showing the first and third years’ tracks of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14). In 1913 the Royal Geographical Society published a preliminary chart of soundings made by the Aurora in 1912-13 and in 1914 it issued three maps showing the routes of the Australasian sledging parties. The collection contains two maps recording the explorations of Hubert Wilkins in the Antarctic in 1928-29. There are photographic copies and tracings of maps compiled by the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition led by Mawson in 1929-31, as well as two charts published by the Royal Geographical Society in 1932. In 1938 the Society issued a map of Graham Land based on the surveys of the expedition led by the Australian John Rymill. The first official map of the Australian Antarctic Territories was published by the Department of Interior in 1939; the Library has copies as well as a volume entitled ‘Progress sheets’.

Map of Antarctica showing territories and dependencies.

Australia. Department of the Interior. Property and Survey Branch. & Bayliss, E. P. & Cumpston, J. S. (1939). Antarctica, https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-236895938

There are many printed and manuscript maps of the Australian Antarctic Territories published from 1950 onwards by the Australian Antarctic Division, the Division of National Mapping, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research and other bodies. In addition, the Library holds a comprehensive collection of about 70,000 aerial photographs of the Australian Antarctic Territories. They were taken by the RAAF and mostly date from 1956-65, with a relatively small number produced in the 1970s.


mfm G 7292 Journal written on the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 / Thomas Vere Hodgson (Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge)

Oral History

ORAL TRC 351 Interview with P.G. Law recorded by Lennard Bickel, 1975

ORAL TRC 396 Interview with Eric Webb recorded by Lennard Bickel, 1975

ORAL TRC 430 Interview with John Béchervaise recorded by Suzanne Lunney, 1976

ORAL TRC 495 Interview with R.W. Richards recorded by Lennard Bickel, 1976


The largest collection of Antarctic photographs held in the Library were taken by Frank Hurley during the expeditions led by Douglas Mawson (1911-14 and 1929-31) and Ernest Shackleton (1914-17). Numbering many hundreds, they depict the ships Aurora, Endurance and Discovery, members of the crews and scientific parties, Macquarie Island, Heard Island, Kerguelen, South Georgia, MacRobertson Land, Adelie Land, blizzards, icebergs, pack ice, sea elephants, penguins and Antarctic landscapes.

The Mawson Collection purchased in 1980 contains 473 photographs, of which about 400 relate to the Antarctic. They mainly date from 1911-14 and were taken by Frank Hurley, Douglas Mawson, Frank Wild and other members of the expedition. They depict the Aurora, Macquarie Island, Cape Barne, Cape Denison, Mertz Glacier, Beardmore Glacier, penguins, sea elephants, marine life, plants, geological samples, and ice formations. There are also many photographs of huts and men working or relaxing. A smaller collection relating to the same expedition formed part of the archive of John G. Hunter. It consists of 36 lantern slides created by Frank Hurley from photographs taken by Hurley, L.R. Blake, H. Hamilton and Mawson.

Another outstanding photographer, Herbert Ponting, was a member of the 1910-13 British Antarctic Expedition led by Captain Robert Scott. The Library holds 35 of his photographs depicting the icebound Terra Nova, penguins and pack ice, seals, blizzards, icebergs and Mount Erebus. Another early item is an album of photographs taken on the Nimrod expedition led by Ernest Shackleton in 1907-9.

The papers of the biologist George W. Rayner included 16 photographs taken on board Discovery II when it sailed in Antarctic waters in 1931. There are also photographs documenting the work of various ANARE expeditions. For instance, a collection is held of 45 photographs taken at Heard Island in 1947-48.


(i) Writings by Australian Explorers and Scientists

Béchervaise, John, Blizzard and fire: a year at Mawson, Antarctica, 1963

Béchervaise, John, The far South, 1961

Bernacchi, L.C., To the south polar regions: expedition of 1898-1900, 1901

Davis, John King, High latitude, 1962

Davis, John King, Trial by ice: the Antarctic journals of John King Davis, edited by Louise Crossley, 1997

Davis, John King, With the Aurora in the Antarctic, 1911-1914, 1919

Debenham, Frank, The quiet land: the diaries of Frank Debenham, member of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910-1913, edited by June Debenham Back, 1992

Hurley, Frank, Argonauts of the south, 1925

Hurley, Frank, Shackleton’s argonauts: a saga of the Antarctic ice-packs, 1948

Laseron, Charles Francis, South with Mawson: reminiscences of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-14, 1947

Law, P.G., Antarctic odyssey, 1983

Law, P.G., You have to be lucky: Antarctic and other adventures, 1995

Law, P.G. and John Béchervaise, ANARE: Australia’s Antarctic outposts, 1957

Madigan, C.T., Madigan's account: the Mawson Expedition: the Antarctic diaries of C.T. Madigan, 1911-14, transcribed by J.W. Madigan, 2012

Mawson, Douglas, Home of the blizzard, being the story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914, 2 vols, 1915

Mawson, Douglas, Mawson’s Antarctic diaries, edited by Fred Jacka and Eleanor Jacka, 1988

Rymill, John, Southern lights: the official account of the British Graham Land expedition, 1934-1937, 1938

Taylor, Thomas Griffith, Journeyman Taylor: the education of a scientist, 1958

(ii) Biographies and historical studies

Ayres, Philip, Mawson: a life, 2003

Béchervaise, John, Arctic and Antarctic: the will and the way of John Riddoch Rymill, 1995

Bickel, Lennard, This accursed land, 1977

Bowden, Tim, The silence calling: Australians in Antarctica 1947-97, 1997

Branagan, David F., T.W. Edgeworth David: a life, 2005

Caesar, Adrian, The white, 1999

Chipman, Elizabeth, Australians in the frozen south: living & working in Antarctica, 1978

Chipman, Elizabeth, Women on the ice: a history of women in the far south, 1986

Day, David, Flaws in the ice: in search of Douglas Mawson, 2013

Debenham, Frank, Antarctica: the story of a continent, 1959

Downes, M.C., First visitors to Heard Island, 2002

Fitzsimons, Peter, Mawson and the ice men of the heroic age: Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen, 2011

Grierson, John, Sir Hubert Wilkins, 1960

Griffiths, Tom, Slicing the silence: voyaging to Antarctica, 2007

Hains, Brigid, The ice and the inland: Mawson, Flynn, and the myth of the frontier, 2002

Hall, Lincoln, Douglas Mawson: the life of an explorer, 2000

Hayward, Marcus and Griffiths, Tom, eds, Australia and the Antarctic Treaty system: 50 years of influence, 2011

Jarvis, Tim, Mawson: life and death in Antarctica, 2008

Jensen, David C., Mawson's remarkable men: the personal stories of the epic 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 2015

Lansing, Alfred, Endurance, 2000

McEwin, Emma, The many lives of Douglas Mawson, 2018

McGregor, Alasdair, Frank Hurley: a photographer’s life, 2004

Marchant, Harvey J. and others, eds, Australian Antarctic science: the first 50 years of ANARE, 2003

Mawson, Paquita, Mawson of the Antarctic: the life of Sir Douglas Mawson, FRS, OBE, 1964

Murray-Smith, Stephen, Sitting on penguins: Australia and the Antarctic, 1988

Nasht, Simon, The last explorer: Hubert Wilkins, Australia’s unknown hero, 2005

Price, A. Grenfell, The winning of Australian Antarctica: Mawson’s B.A.N.Z.A.R.E. voyages, 1929-31, 1962

Ralston, Kathleen, A man for Antarctica: the early life of Phillip Law, 1993

Riffenburgh, Beau, Aurora: Douglas Mawson and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14, 2011

Sanderson, Marie, Griffith Taylor: Antarctic scientist and pioneer geographer, 1988

Sellick, Douglas R.G., ed., Antarctica: first impressions 1773-1930, 2001

Strange, Caroline and Bashford, Alison, Griffith Taylor: visionary, environmentalist, explorer, 2008

Thomas, Lowell, Sir Hubert Wilkins: his life of adventure: an autobiography recounted, 1961


The various collections of personal papers are held in the Manuscript Collection. Finding-aids for the papers of Frank Hurley and Thomas Griffith Taylor are available on-line at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-223125568/findingaid (Hurley) and https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-695778504/findingaid (Taylor). The finding-aid for the papers of Phillip Law was compiled by the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre and is available at http://www.austehc.unimelb.edu.au/guides/lawp/LAWP.htm

The maps and aerial photographs are housed in the Maps Collection. Some of the maps have been catalogued, but many uncatalogued maps and associated papers are filed with the SCAR (Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research) collection. The aerial photographs occupy about 1150 boxes.

The oral history interviews and transcripts are held in the Oral History Collection. The photographs are held in the Pictures Collection. Nearly all the photographs of Frank Hurley have been individually catalogued and digitised. A list of the photographs in the Mawson Collection is available in the Pictures Branch. The photographs of Herbert Ponting have been individually catalogued. Other photographs can be found in collections of personal papers, particularly the Béchervaise, Brown and Law papers.


Béchervaise, John, Davis, John King (1884-1967), in Australian Dictionary of Biography online

Hince, Bernadette, I do not expect to be lonely: John Béchervaise on Heard Island, National Library of Australia News, vol. 13 (12), Sept. 2003, pp. 3-6

Jacka, F.J., Mawson, Sir Douglas (1882-1958), in Australian Dictionary of Biography online

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)