Edited by Allan Mornement and Beau Riffenburgh
For a century, little has been known about Belgrave Edward Sutton Ninnis other than that he was a member of Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE), who was tragically lost down a crevasse with the best dogs and most of the food, while he, Mawson, and Xavier Mertz were more than 300 miles from their quarters at Commonwealth Bay. This led to Mawson’s remarkable journey back to base – much of it solo after Mertz died as well.
Now, for the first time, Ninnis’ diary – which covers his years in the Royal Fusiliers, his determined efforts to join expeditions led by Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, and his participation in the AAE – provides details of the young officer’s life, hopes, and passions. It also gives important insights into Shackleton, Mawson, other members of the AAE, and life in the Antarctic at the windiest place on Earth. Through it is revealed how a rather self-centred youngster matured under the influence of Mertz – a Swiss ski champion – Mawson, and other members of the expedition into a popular young man with great promise, only to have his bright future tragically and suddenly terminated.Erskine Press
Wednesday, May 1st
An unprecedented May Day, for, whilst at home they will have been revelling in the approach of summer, with the Annual Cart Horse Parade of gaily chaparisoned beasts to day, the bluebells, lilac and may coming out, on the eve of the opening of cricket and tennis seasons, and the hundred and one odd signs of summer, we here, 67º South, have been facing one of our worst days. For twenty four hours the hurricane has averaged 73 miles an hour, whilst for many hours it has been blowing at over 86 miles an hour, with a temperature of from 44 to 48 degrees of frost. It is impossible to convey any impression of the weather we are daily experiencing. Some of the gusts to-day we[re] terrific, and caused the hut to crack and groan as if a rock had suddenly struck the roof.
The drift was thick, and minor face frost-bites many.
I was slushy to Close to-day, and had an amusing time; he is so fearfully fussy, and in a constant state of panic over the next meal. ‘Dux Ipse’ frequently came to the rescue and their altercations over bread making we[re] highly diverting. Once again ‘D.I’ showed Close the method of light kneading of the Self-Rising flour, and again, as always, old Close punched and pummelled the offending dough as if he had been at a boxing match. At length Mawson lost all patience and exclaimed ‘You’ll never learn, Close’. ‘But, Doctor,’ said J.C. ‘I do not properly comprehend the manner of manipulation’, interlacing his speech with the usual lengthy words. This sort of thing went on all day. …
After tea, we rigged up a tin of calcium carbide and water at the head of Close’s bunk. After a while the lid, of course blew out, and simultaneously we extinguished the acetylene burners, with exclamations of alarm, whilst Correll rushed up the ladder to the generator with every appearance of consternation. Old Close for the moment expected we would be blown sky high, whilst we, in the dark, could hardly choke down our laughter.