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Hurley, James Francis

Hurley, James Francis

Alias: Frank, The Prince

Dates: 1885-1962

Nationality: Australian

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Polar Medal (bronze)

James Francis (Frank) Hurley was born and raised in Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales in 1885. He did not enjoy school learning and at a young age left for a job at an ironworks in Lithgow, where he learned metalworking, electrical fitting, and instrument-making. Hurley bought his first camera, a 15-shilling Kodak Box Brownie, as a teenager, and he quickly developed a passion as well as remarkable talent for photography. He eventually became a successful commercial photographer, particularly known for producing postcards.

Hurley joined Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911–14 (Aurora) as the photographer, and as well as proving to be a multi-talented hand around the base and a tireless man-hauler, his still and cinematic photography greatly enhanced his reputation on his return. Hurley again went to Antarctica when John King Davis took Aurora back to Commonwealth Bay to pick up Mawson and his six companions after a second winter in the south.

Upon his return from that voyage, Hurley accompanied the adventurer Francis Birtles on a motorcar expedition from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Northern Australia and back, all the while making a film about Aboriginal life in the area. Throughout that adventure, Hurley was in regular contact with Mawson, whom he repeatedly asked for help in arranging for him to be hired by Shackleton. Mawson reluctantly agreed, and upon Hurley's return from the outback he joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition as the photographer.

While Endurance was in the ice, a platform under the jib-boom was built for Hurley so he could film and take photos of the ship's progress. Hurley was often found even higher or in more hazardous places to get more dramatic footage. He was also given responsibility for one of the dog teams.

After Endurance was abandoned, Hurley returned to the wreck to dive for his glass plate negatives, which were in the partly submerged hold underneath a great deal of gear and in several feet of icy water. Then, at Ocean Camp, Shackleton directed Hurley to reduce the weight carried on the lifeboats by making a careful selection of which negatives to keep. They decided to keep 120 images and to smash all the others in order to obviate the temptation to change their minds. Hurley also packed away all his photographic gear, except for one small pocket camera and three spools of unexposed film.

After the party's return to England, Hurley travelled back to South Georgia in order to take more still photographs and moving pictures for a film. The movie 'South' (originally entitled 'In the Grip of the Polar Pack Ice') was released in 1919 and became a great success.

In 1917 Hurley joined the Australian Imperial Force as an official photographer with the rank of captain. Beginning with the third battle of Ypres, he covered the war in France, Belgium, and Palestine, including taking some of the only known colour photographs from the war.

In the years following the First World War, he made an early film of Australia from the air, undertook expeditions to the islands of the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea, and returned to Antarctica on Mawsons British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929–31 (Discovery). He also published his classic book 'Argonauts of the South'.

During the Second World War, Hurley was the official photographer to the Australian forces in the Middle East, holding the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In the following years he published numerous books of Australian photographs, as he made a concerted attempt to interest a world-wide readership in the beauties of Australia. He died in his favourite armchair in Sydney at the age of 76.

Hurley was awarded the Polar Medal three times, once in silver for his participation on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, again in silver for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and finally in bronze for his contributions to the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition. Hurley is commemorated in Antarctica by Cape Hurley (67°36'S, 145°18'E), an ice-covered point marking the mouth of the depression occupied by the Mertz Glacier, and Mount Hurley (66°17'S, 51°21'E), a snow-covered massif in the Australian Antarctic Territory.


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