Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer


Bryant and May 'Wax Vestas' match box, used by John Close to store Morse Code


Bryant and May 'Wax Vestas' match box, used by John Close to store Morse Code

Object information


Used by John Collinson Close, an 'assistant collector' on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914, led by Douglas Mawson. This expedition is notable for being the first to transmit messages from Antarctica, via a wireless relay station established on Macquarie Island.

Physical description

A rectangular, metal, 'BRYANT & MAY' 'WAX VESTAS' match box, containing a handwritten note. The match box is brass plated, with an engraving of a horse race on the inside of the lid and a mirror on the outside of the lid. The base of the matchbox has rectangular striking plate on the base with perforations in a regular pattern. Embossed text on the side of the box reads 'JAHNCKE'S PATENT'. Embossed text on the base of the box reads 'BRYANT & MAY', 'WAX VESTAS' and 'MADE IN / ENGLAND'. Contained within the box is a handwritten note in blue pen on cream paper with the words 'Mawson / Expedition / Morse / Code'.

Statement of significance

This collection comprises objects belonging to John Henry Collinson Close, a member of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911-1914, led by Dr Douglas Mawson. It includes a telescope and case; pocket compass; Bryant and May matchbox (used to keep Close's Morse code); diary entries and letters from Close to his wife Alice (three on AAE letterhead); a hand-stitched canvas pouch with a label written by Close in ink, containing two rock samples collected in Antarctica and sent to Alice by supply ship in 1912; a copy of Life Magazine from September 1914; newspaper cuttings of eight articles written by or referencing Close; three typescript letters, including correspondence from Douglas Mawson; handwritten copies of two poems, including one by Tennyson; a newspaper cutting of a Douglas Stewart poem; and a registered envelope addressed to Close.

The John Collinson Close collection dates from the 'heroic era' of Antarctic exploration, perhaps the last great period of geographical discovery on Earth. It demonstrates key events in a story that led to Australia's claim over 42% of the continent. Linked to this story, and to this collection, are simultaneous ties to the old notions of Empire and the assertion of a new national identity. Close's private letters and journalism reveal the contrast between the personal experiences of a lesser-known expeditioner and a venture, overshadowed by a mythologised leader, now abstracted into the national memory and imagination.

Object information

Back to top