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Frank Hurley’s Antarctica: images of early 20th century polar exploration

The Australian photographer travelled to Antarctica six times, including as part of the ill-fated Endurance expedition led by Shackleton.

Blizzard at Cape Denizon, Antartica. (Frank Hurley)
Blizzard at Cape Denizon, Antartica. (Frank Hurley)

THE AUSTRALIAN photographer who captured some of the most iconic images of early 20th century polar exploration visited Antarctica six times between 1911 and 1932 to document voyages of discovery.

Frank Hurley, born in 1885, first travelled to Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Expedition and was a member on the ill-fated Endurance voyage led by Kildare-born explorer Ernest Shackleton and crewed by Kerryman Tom Crean.

The ship was crushed in October 1915 after becoming trapped in the polar ice. Despite the extreme conditions and having no way to signal their difficulties to the outside world, six of the exploration party daringly set out across the stormy Atlantic to raise the alarm and mount a rescue of the remaining men. The whole crew was saved in August 1916 by a Chilean trawler.

Having left school as a young teenager to work in an iron foundry, Hurley discovered his passion for photography and began developing his skill after purchasing his first camera aged 17.

A collection Hurley’s glass plates, photographs and notes from his half-dozen Antarctic journeys are held by the State Library of New South Wales, some of which are shown in the slideshow below.

Frank Hurley’s Antarctica: images of early 20th century polar exploration
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  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    A mid-winter glow: The Weddell Sea and the Endurance in 1915. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Australian Antarctic Expedition members in the kitchen, 1911-1914. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Blizzard at Cape Denison, Antarctica, circa 1912. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Blizzard, the pup, during the First Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911 to 1914. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Dog teams scouting a way to the land, 1915. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Face of the Neumeyer Glacier in 1915, photographed during the Endurance expedition. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Frank Hurley washing cinematograph film on the Aurora during the first Australasian expedition to Antarctica.
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    A glimpse of the doomed ship the Endurance, 1915, from the Antarctic ice. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Hand-netting for macro-plankton from the Aurora during the first Australasian expedition. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Ice mask around the face of Australian explorer and geologist Cecil Thomas Madigan, taken between 1911-1914. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Moulting Adelie penguins after a blizzard at Cape Denison, 1911-1914. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    New Fortuna Glacier, 1915 during the Endurance voyage. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    The Bosun John Vincent of the Endurance mending a net in 1915. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    The impenetrable icefield which trapped and destroyed the Endurance in 1915. (Image: Frank Hurley)
  • Frank Hurley's Antarctica

    Winter quarters in Queen Mary Land, taken during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914. (Image: Frank Hurley)

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