Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer

4

Proclamation of British sovereignty over King George V Land (Antarctica), signed by Sir Douglas Mawson, 1931

1993.0121.0001

Proclamation of British sovereignty over King George V Land (Antarctica), signed by Sir Douglas Mawson, 1931

Object information

Description

Proclamation of British sovereignty over King George V Land (Antarctica), which was written by physicist and surveyor Alexander Kennedy and signed by Douglas Mawson, on 5 January 1931. Mawson read this proclamation to a small group of his fellow explorers at Cape Denison, before the document was buried in a handmade canister in a cairn at Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica. The canister was made from empty food tins welded together. Another proclaimation was made by Mawson at MacRobertson Land on 18 February 1931.

Physical description

Proclamation written on rag paper in copperplate by A L Kennedy, a physicist in Mawson's party, and signed by Sir Douglas Mawson. It declares that "The full sovereignty of the Territory of King George V Land and its extension...vests in His Majesty King George Fifth, his heirs and successors, forever".

Statement of significance

The Sir Douglas Mawson Collection comprises two letters and a canister. The first letter, dated 5 January 1931, is a proclamation hand-written in copperplate on rag paper by A L Kennedy, a physicist in Mawson's party, and signed by Sir Douglas Mawson, proclaiming British sovereignty over King George V Land (Antarctica) between Longitudes 142 and 160 degrees east of Greenwich, and between Latitude 66 degrees south and the South Pole. The second is a transcript of a later proclamation signed by Mawson on 18 February, 1931 stating: "proclamation read and flag planted on McRobertson Land " Latitude 67.26 South, Longitude 60.49 East claiming large tracts of Antarctica Mainland and off lying islands. The collection also contains a metal canister made from three food tins soldered together. It was in this canister that Mawson placed the 5 January 1931 proclamation at Cape Denison. Forty-six years later, members of the 1977 Australian Antarctic Expedition retrieved the objects from their burial place beneath a cairn in Commonwealth Bay.

Distinguished polar explorer and scientist, Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958), led three research expeditions to Antarctica, the first from 1911-14, and the second and third - British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expeditions (BANZARE) - in 1929-30 and 1930-31. However, as well as the advancement of scientific exploration, oceanographic work and biological knowledge, great emphasis for Mawson's later voyages lay on British intentions to pre-empt territorial expansion by Norway, which was intent on securing rights over Antarctic territory to support and extend its whaling industry. Instructions issued by Prime Minister Robert Bruce to Mawson on 12 September 1929, explained clearly that territorial acquisition (in Bruce's words, to "plant the British flag") was to be a chief objective of his voyages. The documents in this collection are considerably important in terms of territorial claims and international politics. Mawson's team were the first to map much of the coast, and this provided firm foundation for sovereignty over 5,800,000 square kilometres, or forty-two percent, of eastern Antarctic Territory to be transferred from Britain to Australia under the Australian Antarctic Territory Acceptance Act 1933, which came into effect in 1936. Although several states have claimed territory in Antarctica, Australia effectively controls a greater area than has been claimed by any other nation.

Educational significance

This is Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic proclamation, written on rag paper in copperplate by AL Kennedy, a physicist Mawson's party, and signed by Mawson. It declares that 'The full sovereignty of the Territory of King George V Land and it's extension...vests in His Majesty King George Fifth, his heirs and successors, forever.'

Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958) was an Antarctic explorer and a founding member of the Australian Academy of Science. Mawson came to Australia as a young boy from England. He graduated in engineering from the University of Sydney and from 1905 he lectured in mineralogy and petrology - the study of the origin and structure of rocks - at the University of Adelaide.

Mawson became interested in the geology of Antarctica after field trips to the Flinders Rangers in South Australia. These ranges were partly sculpted by glaciers millions of years ago and he began to speculate about the unexplored glaciers of Antarctica.

Mawson's first visit to Antarctica was as part of Sir Ernest Shackleton's team in 1907. In 1911 he led the Australian Antarctic Expedition and in 1929-30 and 1930-31 he led the British Australian New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition. As part of this last voyage of exploration Mawson laid claim to vast tracts of the continent in the name of King George V in a document known as the Mawson proclamation. This is the basis of Australia's claim over parts of Antarctica today.

The Mawson Proclamation was written on 5 January 1931. After it was read it was then stored in a canister made from three cocoa tins soldered together. The canister was buried under rocks and later found in 1976 by members of an expedition organised by the then Antarctic Division of the Department of Science.

Object information

Back to top