London: Andrew Melrose, Ltd., 1919. First edition. Hardcover. This is the uncommon first edition of Aurora Captain John King Davis’s account of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, an expedition that stands as a paragon of the tenacity, spirit, and hardship associated with exploration. Condition is very good. The publisher’s illustrated blue cloth binding is square and tight with modest wear to hinges and extremities and the spine gilt dulled, but still clearly legible. The front cover gilt illustration of the titular steamship remains bright. Slight differential toning to the endpapers corresponding to dust jacket flaps indicates that this copy may have long been jacketed. The volume is richly illustrated with all plates present as called for. The tipped-in rear map is folded neatly though there is a .5 inch tear to the blank margin.
The contents are notably clean apart from spotting, confined to the text block edges, and previous ownership markings to the front pastedown and front free endpaper recto. A small previous owner book plate of “Leonard Ross” affixed to the front pastedown is printed “F.R.G.S.” indicating that, apropos to the subject of this book, a previous owner was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. There are two lines of inked notation below the bookplate, the words “Adventure Polar” and some crossed out numbers, as well as some numbers in ink and pencil, some crossed out, on the upper front free endpaper.
Between 1911 and 1914 the Australasian Antarctic Expedition set out to chart the Antarctic coastline to the south of Australia, collecting perhaps the most significant, and hard won, amount of geological, geographical, and glaciological information of any of the early 20th century Antarctic expeditions. The expedition was led by a young Australian geologist named Douglas Mawson who had previously accompanied Shackleton on his Nimrod expedition in 1907 and was a member of the first party to reach the South Magnetic Pole.
Setting out on the specially outfitted steamship Aurora on 2 December 1911 the crew arrived, sans one side of the bridge which was torn away in the rough seas, in early January 1912 in what Mawson would later name Commonwealth Bay, the center of operations for the expedition. What Mawson didn’t know was that this base camp was located in one of the windiest spots on earth. By February the short Antarctic summer had come to an end. Anything that was not tied down was blown away. While conducting meteorological and scientific observations the men wore crampons fitted to the bottom of their boots in an effort to combat the winds that would often blow over 100 miles an hour with gusts up to 200 miles an hour.
The expedition is best known for Mawson’s harrowing sledging trip, a story that encapsulates the worse horrors endured by Antarctic explorers. In November 1912 Mawson set out with Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant B.E.S. Ninnis, heading east with two sleds and dog teams. After three weeks of success in geological investigation, tragedy struck when Ninnis was swallowed by a snow-covered crevasse taking with him six dogs, most of their rations, and their tent. Mawson and Mertz immediately turned back to base camp, but it wasn’t long before they consumed their meager remaining rations, forcing them to eat their remaining sled dogs. Mertz quickly succumbed leaving Mawson to continue alone.
Unwilling to leave behind the geological specimens, Mawson cut the sled in half with a pen knife and dragged the remaining load 160 km back to Commonwealth Bay. He arrived at camp on 8 February 1913 just hours after the recovery party left on the Aurora. He and the six men who had volunteered to stay behind and search for the missing men were forced to stay for an unplanned second year before leaving the continent in December 1913. Mawson’s efforts contributed more geographical knowledge of the continent than any other explorer of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Item #004700