100th Anniversary of the First Party to Locate the South Magnetic PolePrint Page Print this page

Photographs supplied by Graeme Saunders

A plaque commemorates 100th annniversary of the first party to locate the South Magnetic Pole in January 1909.

On 16th January 1909, three members of an Ernest Shackleton expedition to Antarctica – Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair Mackay – raised a British flag and recorded the moment by photograph at what they thought was Earth’s South Magnetic Pole.

Four months earlier, they’d left McMurdo Sound, at the sea edge of the Antarctic continent, on a journey inland to find magnetic south, the point where the direction of Earth’s magnetic field comes out of the ground and points vertically upwards. This was several years before a team led by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the geographic South Pole on December 14, 1911.

Like all Antarctic journeys of that time, the search for magnetic south was grueling. In this case, the men had to haul their own sledges by hand through a completely unknown region. Crevasses– deep gashes in the ice – slowed them down. When it became clear the march was taking longer than expected, the men had to reduce their rations.

But by early January, 1909, the team appeared to be on the polar plateau, where the thin air made breathing more difficult and where, on January 11, David recorded the temperature at minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-24 degrees Celsius). Finally, on January 15, Mawson calculated that they were about 13 miles (21 km) from magnetic south. The men left their heavy gear and made a final push to a point on Earth’s globe at 72°25′ South latitude, 155°16′ East longitude.

They raised the Union Jack and took their photo. They then immediately began making their way back to the ship Nimrod, which had carried Shackleton’s team from New Zealand to the southern continent of Antarctica the previous year.

Mawson would later realize that he’d overlooked some important calculations made several years previously by another researcher. In 1913, Edgeworth David admitted that their party had reached only “an outlier of the main magnetic pole,” not the true South Magnetic Pole itself. 
Yet their valiant effort is still remembered both in the history of science and in polar exploration.


Address:9 Victoria Street, Royal Society of Victoria, Melbourne, 3000
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -37.807658
Long: 144.969324
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
View Google Map


Monument Type:Plaque
Monument Theme:Landscape
Actual Event Start Date:16-January-1909
Actual Event End Date:16-January-1909


Actual Monument Dedication Date:Friday 16th January, 2009
Front Inscription

The Royal Society of Victoria

South Magnetic Pole, Antarctica

Commemorating the 100th Annniversary
of the First Party to locate the South Magnetic Pole
on 16 January 1909 an its then position
of 72 degrees 25 minutes S, 155 degrees 16 minutes E., by
Australians Professor Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson and
Scotsman Dr Alastair Forbes Mackay, members of the Northern Party
of Shackleton`s British Antarctic Expedition 1907 - 1909.

Unveiled by His Royal Highness, the Duke of Gloucester KG, GCVO
on 16 January 2009, prior to the Society`s Centenary Flight
to the South Magnetic Pole, on 17 January 2009,
at its mean position of 64 degrees, 27 minutes S, 137 degrees 31 minutes E.

Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
Proudly sponsored by UBC Web Design