A biographer's challenge is to rekindle the spirit of a person, and this has recently been accomplished by Stephen Haddelsey in his book Born Adventurer: The Life of Frank Bickerton, Antarctic Pioneer.
Bickerton, born in England in 1889, is today largely unknown, though his adventures were daring and remarkable — Haddelsey recounts his travels into the equatorial rainforest of the Cocos Islands and his airplane dogfights over the Western Front during World War I. But it is Bickerton's Antarctic experiences that dominate the book, and Haddelsey brings these alive via unpublished journals, the memories of those who knew him, and a host of other primary sources.
The Australasian Antarctic Expedition
In 1911, with the backing of a highly respected and influential member of the Royal Geographic Society and at the urging of a veteran of the 1907-09 Nimrod Expedition, Douglas Mawson extended an invitation to Bickerton — then 22 years old — to join the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE). The wanderlust that had sent Bickerton in search of hidden gold in the Cocos Islands, combined with his training as an engineer (specializing in aeronautical engineering), was just the blend needed to take on unknown southern lands.
Mawson bought a Vicker's REP monoplane, and was the first to bring an airplane to Antarctica. Intending to use the plane for reconnaissance and survey work, Mawson made its maintenance Bickerton's responsibility. After the plane was wrecked in a test flight, the ingenious Bickerton converted it into an air tractor sledge. Another novelty arrived in the Antarctic with Mawson — wireless telegraphy; and Bickerton was one of the first to use it.
The Aurora, Australasian Antarctic Expedition
The qualities of leadership were also demanded of the young engineer; Bickerton led the Western Sledge Party as it traversed virgin territory in Adélie Land from December 1912 to January 1913. In spite of horrible weather, sickness and the failure of the air tractor sledge, the three-man party explored 160 miles of territory to the west of the Expedition's Main Base. They also brought back the very first meteorite found in Antarctica; this pointed the way to establishing the continent as the world's richest meteorite field.
When Bickerton returned to England in early 1914 after having been away for nearly two and a half years, Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (ITAE) beckoned — and he answered the call. Shackleton's adventure would unfold without Bickerton, however; events on the Continent intervened and Bickerton withdrew from the ITAE to join the throng of enlistees sucked toward the chaos of the Great War. The war intruded in other ways too, and his white-ribboned Polar Medal for the AAE did not reach his hands until well over a year later.
At one point during his time on Antarctica, when a furious storm had Bickerton and his men caged up in a tent on the ice plateau, he scrawled in his diary, 'These present conditions are nearly enough to cure a man of a desire to poke his nose into the odd corners of the earth.' But Frank Bickerton wasn't the sort of individual to be "cured" of his adventurous spirit. The tribute in his Times obituary in 1954 was simple: 'Adventure was in his blood and expressed itself in everything he said and did.' His memory lives on in through Haddelsey's biography.
copyright 2006 Glenn M. Stein, FRGS
What is IPY
Thursday, 21 September 2006 05:04
Frank Bickerton and the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911-14)Written by Glenn Stein
- Add to Delicious
- Digg this
- Add to Reddit
- Add to StumbleUpon
- Add to Facebook
- Add to MySpace
- Add to Technorati
Login to post comments
Calendar of Events
Friends of IPY
Mon, 28 Nov 2011Missatge 10: Un cap de...
Mon, 28 Nov 2011Missatge 9: Qualsevol dia... és...
Fri, 25 Nov 2011XEFS
Fri, 25 Nov 2011Segona edició de la festa...
Fri, 25 Nov 2011Concurs "Cristal·lització a l'Escola"