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Sir Douglas Mawson

c. 1916
Thomson Studios

gelatin silver photograph on paper (mount: 33.9 cm x 27.5 cm, image: 22.9 cm x 14.0 cm)

Sir Douglas Mawson OBE FRS (1882–1958) was a geologist and Antarctic explorer. Born in Yorkshire, Mawson was two years old when his family emigrated to Australia and eventually settled in the inner Sydney suburb of Glebe. He was admitted to Sydney University at age sixteen, completing studies in mining engineering and geology there before taking up a position as lecturer in mineralogy and petrology at the University of Adelaide. Mawson made the first of his three journeys to Antarctica as physicist to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s British Antarctic Expedition, conducted between 1907 and 1909. On that trip and with his mentor, geologist TW Edgeworth David, Mawson completed a dangerous 122-day sled journey and recorded observations at the South Magnetic Pole. Two years later, Mawson led his own expedition, the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911–14. Notable for its numerous scientific and geographical achievements, the AAE is equally legendary for Mawson’s survival during another epic sled journey to the South Pole that claimed the lives of his two companions. Mawson returned from the expedition a hero and was knighted. After serving with the British Ministry of Munitions and the Russian Military Commission during World War I, Mawson returned to Adelaide University, where he was Professor of Geology and Mineralogy for the remainder of his life. He revisited Antarctica as leader of the British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) of 1929–30 and 1930–31, a venture that later resulted in Australian control of almost six million square kilometres of the continent. In 1947, Mawson completed writing and editing the twenty-two volumes of reports on the scientific findings of the AAE. He retired from the University of Adelaide – the geology building of which bears his name – in 1952. He died six years later, survived by his wife and two daughters, and was honoured with a State funeral in Adelaide. Described by Edgeworth David as a man of ‘infinite resource, splendid physique and astonishing indifference to frost’, Mawson is counted among the twentieth century’s most eminent explorers.

This photograph of Douglas Mawson in his early thirties was taken at a commercial photography studio in London during World War I. It was donated to the National Portrait Gallery by the subject’s daughter in 2000.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Mrs J.Q. McEwin 2000

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Thomson Studios

Sir Douglas Mawson Kt OBE FRS (age 34 in 1916)

Subject professions

Science and technology

Donated by

Jessica Q. McEwin (1 portrait)

Related portraits

1. Douglas Mawson, 1933. All Henry James Haley.

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Sir Douglas Mawson
Sir Douglas Mawson
Sir Douglas Mawson
Sir Douglas Mawson

Staying home

True south #2

About Face article

14 July 2020

Joanna Gilmour brings a mindful Douglas Mawson’s perspective to bear on the concept of isolation.

Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait
Self portrait

Of ice and men

Magazine article by Joanna Gilmour, 2009

Frank Hurley's celebrated images document the heroism and minutiae of Australian exploration in Antarctica.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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