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Eric Douglas, c. 1929-31

Frank Hurley

gelatin silver photograph (image: 19.6 cm x 12.5 cm)

Gilbert Eric Douglas (1902–1970), pilot and air force officer, took part in Sir Douglas Mawson’s British, Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE), which took the form of two ocean voyages conducted over the southern summers of 1929–30 and 1930–31. Melbourne- born, Douglas joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a technician in 1921 and graduated as a pilot six years later. In April 1929, he flew to the Northern Territory as part of a team looking for the crew of a plane called the Kookaburra, which had crashed while itself taking part in a search for aviators Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm. Douglas was recommended for the Air Force Medal for his part in the mission and promoted to pilot officer, and later the same year was appointed to take part in the BANZARE voyages. Along with flight-lieutenant Stuart Campbell, Douglas – and the Gypsy Moth seaplane he referred to as ‘our machine’ – played a significant role in the expedition’s scientific and exploratory activities, flying ahead of expedition ship Discovery to identify routes through the pack ice, identifying sites for landings, and making ‘flights for photographs – both cine and still’ with official photographer Frank Hurley and his thirty-pound cinema camera. In a paper published in 1932, Mawson acknowledged that ‘the aeroplane proved a most important factor in the prosecution of the geographical program. Its successful operation, at times under most difficult conditions, [owed] everything to the determination and skill of Campbell and Douglas’. In 1935 Douglas returned to Antarctica to search for the missing American explorer Lincoln Ellsworth and his pilot Herbert Hollick-Kenyon. Awarded the Polar Medal for his part in the BANZARE expedition, Douglas returned to military service in the 1930s and retired from the RAAF in 1948.

Best known for his dramatic, heroic images of Antarctic ice and seascapes, Douglas’s colleague Frank Hurley also took many photographs depicting his shipmates and their daily activities. This informal portrait of Eric Douglas – who considered Hurley ‘a great chap to be away with’ – depicts him on the deck of the Discovery and clad in his expedition-issue woollen socks, jumper and beanie. ‘You don’t worry what you look like or how you dress’, Douglas wrote, ‘and I think a spell like this does us all good’. The photograph was donated to the National Portrait Gallery by the subject’s daughter in 2009.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Sally Douglas 2009

Accession number: 2009.18

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Frank Hurley (age 44 in 1929)

Eric Douglas (age 27 in 1929)

Subject professions

Exploration and settlement

Military

Donated by

Sally Douglas (2 portraits)

Related portraits

1. Self portrait, c. 1911. All Frank Hurley.
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