The collection

The Sir Douglas Mawson Collection of Antarctic rock and mineral specimens was donated to the Australian Museum in 1939.

Sir Douglas Mawson's heroic 1911–14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition opened up this mysterious, unknown territory and demonstrated a surprising diversity of Antarctic rocks and minerals.

The specimens were collected mainly from rubble (moraine) left behind from moving glaciers or from Eagle Bay and North Head, Macquarie Island; and Cape Denison, Commonwealth Bay.

Metamorphic rocks such as gneiss, amphibolite and marble, and igneous rocks such as tuff, basalt, dolerite and gabbro are well-represented in the collection of 2000 specimens, but there are also sedimentary rocks such as sandstone, conglomerate and limestone.

Various types of granite, granodiorite and pegmatite were also part of the donation, with the most attractive being the garnet-bearing pegmatites.

Probably the most iconic donation in the Mawson Collection is the Adelie Land chondrite stony meteorite found in 1912 by Francis Bickerton on Mawson’s expedition and donated to the Museum in 1950.

About Sir Douglas Mawson

Sir Douglas Mawson (1882–1958) was born in England and moved with his family to Sydney in 1884. He studied Mining Engineering at Sydney University, graduated in 1902, and was appointed a Junior Demonstrator in Chemistry. He travelled to the New Hebrides (known today as Vanuatu) in 1903 and produced a report on its geology, and later did a study of radioactive minerals in Australia. Back at Sydney University he became a pioneer in the chemical aspects of geology and geochemistry.

Portrait of Sir Douglas Mawson by Frank Hurley
Digitised image from the National Library of Australia. Inscriptions: "These preliminary titles were used for a film made for the Mawson expedition of 1929-1931"--In pencil on verso; "The picture diary of the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic research expedition"--Printed on verso. Image: Frank Hurley © Courtesy of the National Library of Australia

In 1905 he was appointed Lecturer in Mineralogy and Petrology in the University of Adelaide, South Australia, and began a long and illustrious career there. He commenced studies of glacial geology in South Australia and continued studies of radioactive minerals. He identified and first described davidite from Radium Hill, which he named after fellow Antarctic explorer, Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David. His major work focused on the highly mineralised Precambrian rocks of the Barrier Ranges, Broken Hill, and the Northern Flinders Ranges.

He joined Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica with Edgeworth David in 1907–09 and made many valuable geological and glaciological observations. Mawson helped organise the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911–14, with activities focused around Macquarie Island, Commonwealth Bay and the Shackleton Ice Shelf. The expedition made many geological discoveries but was marked by tragedy and heroic tales of survival when expedition members Ninnis and Mertz perished and Mawson barely survived.

Mawson’s contribution to Australian and Antarctic geology and mineralogy was outstanding.

Douglas Mawson in the Antarctic
Australasian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1914. Image: Frank Hurley © State Library of NSW

He served in a scientific capacity during World War I and, in 1915, was appointed Professor of Geology at the University of Adelaide, making its Geology Department a beacon of teaching and research. He organised and led the British, Australian, and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition of 1929–30 and 1930–31, making extensive biological and geological investigations.

He received many international awards and honours and was a member of many scientific societies. Sir Douglas Mawson was, with Sir Edgeworth David, one of the foremost Australian geologists of the 20th century.

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Crocoite on limonite D.50681