Charles Harrisson’s Ice Axe – A Tasmanian on ice

No. 76

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Charles Harrisson was born at Kingston, south of Hobart, in 1866. A biological collector and artist, he was 43 years old – and the sole Tasmanian – when he joined Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1911. The expedition established two Antarctic bases: the main one at Adélie Land, and a second one on Queen Mary Land (the Western Base) where Harrisson was stationed. Harrisson collected many marine specimens new to science on the voyage to Antarctica and while based on the continent, including a cephalopod (squid), later named Moschites harrissonii and now Pareldone harrissoni. A practical man, he had to build equipment such as winches and traps to collect these specimens from the icy oceans. He also painted and sketched the exquisite beauty of the landscape around the Western Base as well as the everyday activities of his fellow expeditioners.

Harrisson also took part in several sledging journeys, undertaking scientific work and laying food depots for more extended surveys. His artistic and scientific skills, as well as his dependability and easy companionship made him a valued expeditioner. Danger was ever present in these journeys with several near misses almost claiming his life. After giving him up as dead his fellow expeditioners were overjoyed when Harrisson survived one such mishap.

After returning from Antarctica Harrisson joined the Commonwealth fisheries vessel, Endeavour, as a biologist. He was aboard when it was lost at sea with all hands after leaving Macquarie Island in December, 1914. His loss was mourned as he was a popular man, known as a keen naturalist who was always willing to share his knowledge. He continued Tasmania’s links to the heroic age of Antarctic exploration.

Charles Harrisson’s ice axe is thought to have been used on the Eastern Sledge Journey of 1912-13 when the party of four covered 305 miles (491 kms) in two months. The ice axe was manufactured by Anton Hupfauf, (1871-1916), a Swiss-based blacksmith who specialised in making mountaineering tools, exporting them around the world.

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