skip to primary navigation skip to content


You are not currently logged in

Alias: None

Title: Sir

Rank: Major

Dates: 1882-1958

Nationality: Australian

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Polar Medal (bronze); Founders' Medal, Royal Geographical Society (1915); Von Mueller Memorial Medal (1915); Knight of the British Empire (1914)

Douglas Mawson was born on 5 May 1882 in Shipley, Yorkshire, emigrating to Australia with his parents when he was two years old. He read geology at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1901. In 1905, after accompanying a pioneer geological expedition to the New Hebrides, he was appointed lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at Adelaide University.

In 1907 Mawson joined the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09 (Nimrod) as physicist, working under his mentor Professor Tannatt Edgeworth David. He was a member of the party making the first ascent of Mount Erebus, which reached the summit 10 March 1908. He was also a member of the three-man Northern Party which reached the South Magnetic Pole on 16 January 1909.

On return to Australia, Mawson immediately began planning his own Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-14 (Aurora). 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. While very successful scientifically and geographically, the expedition is now better known for Mawson’s lone trek of over 100 miles (160 km), barely surviving the loss of most of the provisions and sledge dogs, as well as the deaths of his two companions on the Far Eastern Sledging Party. Mawson described his experiences in a book 'The Home of the Blizzard'.

During World War I, Mawson served in Europe as a Major in the British Ministry of Munitions. He 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 organised and led the British Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition 1929-31 (Discovery). 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.

After the expedition, Mawson continued to participate in science and in the development of the Australian Antarctic research program, including as President of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science 1935-37. He was active also in geological fieldwork in Australia.

He married Francisca Adriana (Paquita) Delprat on 31 March 1914 at Holy Trinity Church, Melbourne. Together they had two daughters. Mawson died at his home on 14 October 1958 in Adelaide, and was given a state funeral.

Mawson was knighted in 1914 in recognition of his achievements during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. He received the Royal Geographical Society Founders' Medal in 1915 and the Von Mueller memorial medal in 1930. He was given a Polar Medal with two bars and gold medals from other international geographical societies. Mawson's image appeared on the Australian paper one hundred dollar note 1984-1996 and in 2012 on a $1 coin issued within the Inspirational Australians series. Mawson Peak (Heard Island), Mount Mawson (Tasmania), Mawson Station (Antarctica), Dorsa Mawson (Mare Fecunditatis), the geology building on the main University of Adelaide campus, suburbs in Canberra and Adelaide, a University of South Australian campus and streets in various Australian towns and cities are named after him.

The Mawson Collection of Antarctic exploration artefacts is on permanent display at the South Australian Museum.

Related expeditions...