Professor Edgeworth David and the Shirase Expedition

Tannatt Edgeworth David provided public and practical support for the Shirase expedition during the six month stay in Sydney.

Shirase, Edgeworth David and Mawson, Sydney 1911

Shirase, Edgeworth David and Mawson, Sydney 1911
Photographer:  © Public Domain

David was Professor of Geology at Sydney University, Trustee of the Australian Museum, a member of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition of 1907-9, and a respected Sydney scientist. Residents of Ashfield, the Davids had been guests at garden parties given by the Japanese Consulate in nearby Croydon, so would have been familiar with Japanese culture and affairs.

As soon as he heard of the Shirase Expedition’s arrival Professor David publicly praised their brave achievements under such adverse conditions, and invited Shirase to come and speak with him about the scientific plans for their next voyage. Responding to reports suspicious of the expedition’s motives he commented,” To raise an outcry against them on the purely imaginary grounds that they are spies is worse than inhospitable, it is sheer nervous stupidity.” [Daily Telegraph 3 May 1911]

In a lecture given in the Town Hall in June 1911 to raise funds for Mawson’s upcoming Antarctic expedition, David commended the Japanese, who he was honoured to have as guests that evening.
“I can assure you that of all the expeditions that have gone out to Antarctica there has been no more genuine expedition than that of which I am now speaking. It has been sent out by our brave allies, the Japanese.” [SMH 1 July 1911]

David also helped with the practical matters of equipping and stocking the ship, as he understood being a veteran himself the requirements of such an expedition.  Lieutenant Shirase later said, “it was extremely fortunate for us that David… was living in Sydney”, and noted that chief scientist Dr Takeda and others benefitted greatly from listening to David’s Antarctic experiences. On 19 November 1911 Professor Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson came on board the Kainan-maru with other friends and supporters to farewell Nobu Shirase and his team as they made their way out of Sydney Harbour to begin the second Antarctic voyage. It was on this occasion that Shirase presented Professor David with the Japanese sword and letter of thanks for his assistance to the expedition during its stay.

On their return to Sydney in 1912 Dr Takeda talked of handing over the results of the expedition to Professor David -meteorological, astronomical, and geographical data. The second Shirase Antarctic Expedition had sailed further south than any other, and established that King Edward VII land was in fact an island as David had predicted.

For a detailed account of the expedition, see The Japanese South Polar expedition 1910-12. A Record of Antarctica. Compiled and Edited by Shirase Antarctic Expedition Supporter’s Association. Translated into English by Lara Dagnell and Hilary Shibata, The Erskine Press and Bluntisham Books 2011

Sue Myatt
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