Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis & Dr Xavier MertzPrint Page Print this page


Photographs supplied by Arthur Garland

The monument commemorates Lieutenant Belgrave Ninnis and Dr Xavier Mertz who died during Mawson's Antarctic expedition of 1912 - 1913.

Mertz and Ninnis were chosen by Mawson to accompany him on the Far Eastern Party, using the dogs to push rapidly from the expedition's base in Adélie Land towards Victoria Land. After Ninnis and a sledge carrying most of the food disappeared down a crevasse 501 kilometres from the hut, Mertz and Mawson headed back west, gradually using the dogs to supplement their remaining food stocks.

About 160 kilometres from safety, Mertz died, leaving Mawson to carry on alone. The cause of Mertz's death has never been firmly established; the commonly purported theory is hypervitaminosis A (an excessive intake of vitamin A) from consuming the livers of the Huskies. Other theories suggest he may have died from a combination of malnutrition, a change in diet, cold exposure, and psychological stresses.


Address:Argyle & Davey Streets, Mawson Place, Hobart, 7000
GPS Coordinates:Lat: -42.882743
Long: 147.332452
Note: GPS Coordinates are approximate.
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Monument Type:Monument
Monument Theme:People


Front Inscription

Australasian Antarctic Expedition
1911 - 1914

Memorial to lives lost

This memorial commemorates the sacrifices of Lieutenant Belgrave Edward Ninnis and Dr Xavier Guillaume Mertz, the only two persons who did not return from Dr (later Sir) Douglas Mawson`s Australasian Antarctic Expedition.

The Australia-led expedition sailed from Hobart on December 2 1911.  Their objective was to explore a then unknown region of East Antarctica.

In 1912 Mawson, Ninnis and Mertz formed the party to explore as far east as possible from Cape Denison base.  Tragedy struck when Ninnis disappeared into a crevasse, taking with him a team of dogs and most of the party`s supplies.  Mertz and Mawson were left 500 kilometres from their base with meagre supplies.  

Desperate to get home they were forced to eat the remaining huskies to survive.  Mertz succumbed during the return, leaving Mawson to walk back alone.  Barely alive he arrived at Cape Denison just after the rescue ship had departed.

Six expedition members had volunteered to winter a second year to wait for the sledging party`s return.  During that second year, the team erected a memorial cross to record the loss of their friends.

Still standing at Cape Dension today, it reads : 

Erected to commemorate the supreme sacrifice made by Lieut B E S Ninnis, RF and Dr X Mertz in the cause of science

AAE 1913

Outside Antarctica, these plaques form the only memorial to honour their lives and commemorate their deaths.  The dolerite rock from a quarry near Hobart on which the plaques are mounted is identical to that found on Antarctica, the continent to which Tasmania was connected before the breakup of Gondwana 63 million years ago.

This memorial also commemorate the legacy of Antarctic scientific research.  It was organised and funded by the Mawson`s Huts Foundation in partnership with the governments of Switzerland and the United Kingdom, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and supported by the Hobart City Council.



Left Side Inscription

Lieutenant Belgrave Edward Ninnis

22 January 1887 - 14 December 1912

Belgrave Ninnis died in East Antarctica after falling into a deep crevasse taking with him a team of huskies and most of the sledging party`s supplies.

Born in Streatham, Surrey, Ninnis was a British Army officer on the Royal Fusiliers when he volunteered to join the 1911 - 14 Australasian expedition.  Nicknamed "Cherub" or "Ninn" he was in charge of the huskies with his friemd Xavier Mertz.

"When comrades tramp the road to anywhere through a blizzard-ridden land in hunger, want and weariness, the interests, ties and fates of each other are interwoven in a wondrous fabric of friendship and affection.  The shock of Ninnis`s death struck home and deeply stirred us.  He was a fine fellow and a born soldier,  At 9pm we stood by the side of the crevasse and I read the burial service.  Then Mertz shook me by the hand with a short "thank you" and we turned away to harness up the dogs" - "The Home of the Blizzard"  Sir Douglas Mawson`s expedition account.


Right Side Inscription

Doctor Xavier Guillaume Mertz

6 October 1882 - 8 January 1913

Xavier Mertz died in  atent on the Antarctic Plateau from the effects of starvation and exhaustion during the 1911 - 14 Australasian Antarctic expedition.

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Mertz was a national ski-running champion, Doctor of Laws from the University of Berne and Doctor of Geology from the University of Lausanne.  Mertz, charged with looking after the huskies with his friend Belgrave Ninnis and nicknamed "X" by his colleagues, was buried of the slopes of a glacier named after him of Antarctica`s George V coast, his grave marked with a pair of skis

"It was unutteringly sad that he should have perished thus, after the splendid work he had accomplished not only on that particular sledging journey but throughout the expedition.  No one could have done better.  Favoured with a generous and lovable character, he had been a general favourite amongst all members of the expedition."  - "The Home of the Blizzard"  Sir Douglas Mawson`s expedition account.


Source: MA
Monument details supplied by Monument Australia - www.monumentaustralia.org.au
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