Borchgrevink’s sled – Antarctica’s oldest vehicle?

No. 77

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In the 1800s, virtually anything to do with Antarctica was groundbreaking, and this sled was no exception. It may well be the first Antarctic vehicle – Carsten Borchgrevink’s Southern Cross expedition set sail from Hobart and landed at Cape Adare in 1898, using this sled to traverse the ice once ashore – and it certainly established the viability of using sleds on the continent for future explorers.

Once at Cape Adare, Borchgrevink set up a camp from pre-fabricated huts, creating the first buildings ever built on the Antarctic continent. A party of ten men then endured the long, dark winter to become the first to ‘winter over’ on the continent.

Accompanying Borchgrevink on the Southern Cross expedition was the first Tasmanian to set foot on Antarctica – physicist Louis Bernacchi. It is from Bernacchi’s journal and published account of this expedition, To the South Polar Regions (London 1901), that much of our knowledge is drawn.

The sled is believed to have been built by Laplanders, and Bernacchi writes of the two Finns – or ‘Lapps’ – on the expedition:

“They were always cheerful and happy. On a sledge journey they were seen at their best, for they were well skilled in the management of the dogs and could work for hours beside the sledges without showing any sign of fatigue… I know of no better clothing for Polar work than that of a Finn, from his ‘komargar’ boots, which are filled with straw, to his warm four-cornered cap, which fits down close to his ears.”

The Southern Cross expedition was the beginning of an era of ‘firsts’ for explorers and scientists on the frozen continent. And Hobart was, and continues to be, a key port in that exciting exploration.

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