Douglas Mawson collection

Scope and Content

The collection comprises of material created during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton) and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 (led by Mawson), the collection also contains correspondence by Mawson.

Administrative / Biographical History

Douglas Mawson was born on 5 May 1882 in Bradford, England, emigrating to Australia with his parents as a boy. He read geology at the University of Sydney and in 1905, after accompanying a pioneer geological expedition to the New Hebrides, was appointed lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at Adelaide University. From there he joined the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909 (leader Ernest Henry Shackleton). He was a member of the first party to climb Mount Erebus and also of the party of three, led by Professor Tannatt Edgeworth David, which was first to reach the South Magnetic Pole.

On return to Australia, he immediately began planning his own Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. This expedition discovered and explored King George V Land and Queen Mary Land, claiming them for the British Empire. Shore parties wintered at Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay, and on the Shackleton Ice Shelf, and very extensive scientific investigations were conducted, both on the Antarctic mainland and at a third station on Macquarie Island.

On his return to Australia he was knighted, and awarded the Founder's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society. During the First World War he served in Europe, and then returned to Adelaide University, where in 1920 he was appointed professor of geology, a post he held until 1952. During the 1920s, he devoted his energies to the preparation and publication of the scientific reports of his Antarctic expedition and lobbied strongly for Australia's further involvement in Antarctic affairs. He organized and led the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1931. Mac. Robertson Land was discovered, as also were the Banzare Coast and Princess Elizabeth Land, all from the air. The boundary between Australian and Norwegian interests was fixed and the regions, which were later to become the Australian Antarctic Territory were formally claimed, 42 percent of the continent's total area. He was active also in geological fieldwork in Australia. Mawson died on 14 October 1958 in Adelaide.

Published work The home of the blizzard, the story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 by Douglas Mawson, Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, Australia (1996) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1911-1914 Mawson] Biographical work Douglas Mawson, the life of an explorer by Lincoln Hall, New Holland, Sydney (2000) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Mawson, D.] Mawson, a life by Philip Ayres, Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press (1999) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Mawson] Mawson's Antarctic diaries, edited by Fred Jacka and Eleanor Jacka, Unwin Hyman, London (1988) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Mawson]


The collection is split into three sub-fonds covering expedition material and correspondence respectively. Within the correspondence sub-fond are numerous letters relating to the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 and the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition, 1929-1931.

Access Information

By appointment.

Some materials deposited at the Institute are NOT owned by the Institute. In such cases the archivist will advise about any requirements imposed by the owner. These may include seeking permission to read, extended closure, or other specific conditions.


Anyone wishing to consult material should ensure they note the entire MS reference and the name of the originator.

The term holograph is used when the item is wholly in the handwriting of the author. The term autograph is used when the author has signed the item.

Descriptions compiled by N. Boneham, Assistant Archivist with assistance from R. Stancombe and reference to Robert Keith Headland Antarctic Chronology, unpublished corrected revision of Chronological list of Antarctic expeditions and related historical events, (1 December 2001) Cambridge University Press (1989) ISBN 0521309034 The Polar Record (January 1959) volume 9 number 61 p376-377 and Encyclopaedia of Antarctica and the Southern Oceans ed. Bernard Stonehouse, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester (2002) ISBN 0471986658 SPRI Library (7)

Other Finding Aids

Clive Holland Manuscripts in the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England - a catalogue, Garland Publishing New York and London (1982) ISBN 0824093941.

Additional finding aids are available at the Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

Copying material by photography, electrostat, or scanning device by readers is prohibited. The Institute may be able to provide copies of some documents on request for lodgement in publicly available repositories. This is subject to conservation requirements, copyright law, and payment of fees.

Copyright restrictions apply to most material. The copyright may lie outside the Institute and, if so, it is necessary for the reader to seek appropriate permission to consult, copy, or publish any such material. (The Institute does not seek this permission on behalf of readers). Written permission to publish material subject to the Institute's copyright must be obtained from the Director. Details of conditions and fees may be had from the Archivist.


Further accessions possible.

Related Material

A large amount of Douglas Mawson's papers, including his non polar work can be found in Australia. State Library of New South Wales and University of Adelaide, special collections

The Scott Polar Research Institute holds a number of photographs, film and other illustrative material in the Picture Library, some of which covers the expeditions Mawson took part in. The catalogue can be searched on line by going to the Picture Library Database and selecting the Enter Polar Pictures link.

The Institute also holds material regarding Mawson amongst the Doorley collection and the Swan collection. (MS 1182;MJ Doorley, G.S. Three Polar Knights and MS 678;BJ Swan, R.A. 'Mawson, Journey into legend' an epic poem, 1963)