A veteran of five major Antarctic expeditions, John Robert Francis ‘Frank’ Wild served a hard apprenticeship in all aspects of maritime and expeditionary life, rising as a leader under tough circumstances.
A seaman in the British Navy, Wild volunteered for Robert Falcon Scott’s first Antarctic expedition 1901–04, during which he became a close friend of explorer Ernest Shackleton. Invited by Shackleton to join the 1907–09 Nimrod expedition to reach the South Pole, Wild participated in one of the longest sledge journeys ever recorded. Although the expedition failed in its goal, the party had come to within 180 km of the Pole, the farthest south anyone had reached at that time.
With his reputation established, Wild was selected by Mawson for the 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition as leader of the Western Base at Queen Mary Land, where his party explored 500km of unknown coastline. Universally well-liked and respected, Wild was a brave, cool-headed leader whose common sense, experience and easy-going nature inspired confidence in his team.
Soon after returning to Australia, Wild joined Shackleton on the legendary 1914–17 Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition. When the Endurance was crushed in pack ice, Shackleton and a small team man-hauled whaleboats to the open sea to South Georgia, to send rescue for the rest of the party camping on the sea ice. In one of the legendary stories of polar survival, the men, led by Wild, sheltered beneath upturned whaleboats on a narrow spit of rock for 105 days, living on penguin, seal and seaweed. Having raised the alarm at a whaling station at South Georgia, Shackleton returned to safely rescue Wild’s men.
In 1921, Shackleton persuaded Wild to join him on a new voyage south on the Quest expedition. When Shackleton died suddenly of heart failure, Wild assumed command from his old friend and successfully completed the expedition.
Awards and honours
Although not widely known for his extraordinary contributions, Wild is a legend in Antarctic history. He was awarded the four-clasp Polar Medal; one of only two ever issued. In Antarctica, Wild Canyon, Point Wild, Cape Wild and Mount Wild are named in his honour.