On the eve of the 90th anniversary of the death of Lieutenant Ninnis, Sir Douglas Mawson’s sledging companion, an Australian Antarctic Division expedition to Mawson’s Huts at Cape Denison has uncovered Ninnis’ bunk under ice inside the main hut.
Ninnis was a member of Mawson’s 1911–1914 Australasian Antarctic Expedition that left Hobart aboard the Aurora in December 1911. His bunk was one of four in the right hand corner — an area they called 'Hyde Park Corner’ — in Mawson’s main living hut. The other three bunks were occupied by Xavier Mertz, Cecil Madigan and Frank Bickerton. Ninnis’ initials can be seen clearly carved into the side of his bunk, while above on a wooden beam reads 'Hyde Park Corner'. Mertz also died on the southern sledging journey from which Mawson returned, near death, alone.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Antarctic Dr Sharman Stone said that pictures sent back by the AAD conservation team showed that despite decades of being buried beneath snow and ice, 'Hyde Park Corner’ was in remarkably good condition.
“This has been the most successful Mawson’s Huts rescue expedition so far. The Federal Government’s funding of this conservation program is money well spent,” said Dr Stone. “The Howard Government’s commitment of $500,000 to the project will help stabilise and preserve this most important part of Australia’s Antarctic history.”
“The early Antarctic explorers displayed extraordinary courage and stamina under the very worst of conditions. It is important that we conserve the records of their achievements and the materials and artefacts remaining from their time on the frozen southern land,” Dr Stone said.
It was the work of these early expeditioners that lead to Australia’s claim of over 40% of the Antarctic continent.
Lieutenant Ninnis died while on a sledging journey with Mawson and Mertz who had successfully crossed a snow-covered crevasse on skis. Ninnis was following with the sledge and dogs when they broke through the snow cover and plunged into the chasm. Mawson and Mertz never saw Ninnis again. From the edge of the crevasse all they could see was an injured dog on a ledge some 150 feet below. Beyond that, nothing. The date was 14 December, 1912.