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H8143 Sledge, full size, Corymbia maculata (spotted gum) / metal / natural fibre / leather, made by Alexander Worsfold, King Street, St Peters, New South Wales, Australia, 1911, used on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctica, 1911-1914. Click to enlarge.

Antarctic sledge made by Alexander Worsfold, used on Douglas Mawson’s Australian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1914

This sledge was used in the Antarctic on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911-1914 led by the Australian explorer and geologist, Sir Douglas Mawson (1882-1958). The wooden sledge, hauled by dogs or men, was used to carry camping requirements, food supplies and scientific equipment on sledging journeys for many weeks over the snow and ice.

Mawson established Australia's first base for scientific and geographic discovery in Antarctica and his work was instrumental in Australia later laying claim to 42 percent of the continent as Australian territory. The AAE explored about 4000 miles (6437 km) in Adelie Land, King George V Land and Queen Mary Land. They made extensive meteorological observations from three bases including Macquarie Island and radioed them back to Melbourne as well as undertaking biological, geological and marine surveys and research. Their chief purpose differed from previous Antarctic expeditions led by Scott and Shackleton which had been based on discovery rather than exploration.

On 10 November 1913 Mawson, accompanied by Dr Xavier Mertz and Lieutenant B. (Belgrave) E.S. Ninnis, left the Cape Denison base taking three sledges and sixteen dogs. After thirty-four days of hard travelling they reached a point 315 miles (507 km) inland from the base before heading back. Tragically Ninnis was killed when he and his sledge, which was carrying most of the food, fell into a deep crevasse. On the long journey back the dogs had to be eaten and Mertz died from cold and exhaustion. Mawson struggled on alone, persistently taking his meteorological readings, and cutting his sledge in half to reduce its weight. He arrived back at base only hours after his ship the "Aurora" had left to return to Australia. Mawson remained in Antarctica with the wintering party and returned in 1914. The AAE expedition is now remembered more for this trek, in which Mawson made a remarkable and unsurpassed solo sledging journey of about 100 miles (161 km), than its scientific achievements.

This sledge is one of three in the Museum's collection from Mawson's 1911-1914 expedition. As a group they are typical of the three sledges used by Mawson on this epic journey with Mertz and Ninnis. They are a tangible and historic reminder of Australia's pioneering years in Antarctic exploration and research in the heroic era.

"Antarctica: Discovery and Exploration, 1587-1922", Exhibition Catalogue, State Library of New South Wales, 1983.

Ayres, Philip, "Mawson A Life", Melbourne University Press, Carlton, VIC, 2003.

Correspondence from Australian Museum archives.

Correspondence from Powerhouse Museum Archives.

Laseron, Charles Francis, "South With Mawson", Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1957.

Mawson, Sir Douglas, "The Home of the Blizzard : The Story of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914", fac. edn. Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 1996.

Wheeler, Barbara & Linda Young, 'Antarctica in museum: the Mawson collections in Australia' in "Polar Record 36 (198): 193-200 (2000).

Margaret Simpson
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry
January 2009


Object No.


Object Statement

Sledge, full size, Corymbia maculata (spotted gum) / metal / natural fibre / leather, made by Alexander Worsfold, King Street, St Peters, New South Wales, Australia, 1911, used on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson, Antarctica, 1911-1914

Physical Description

Sledge, full size, timber, used on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Douglas Mawson, 1911-1914, made by Alexander Worsfold, King Street, St Peters, New South Wales, Australia, 1911

The sledge is primarily of timber construction and was used to haul equipment across snow and ice on a parallel set of runners 3½ inches (8.9 cm) wide. These are attached to a rectangular upper rail via angular supports. The runners are lashed onto the supports with leather thonging which passes through holes in the runners and supports. Six crossbars, 14 inches (35.6 cm) apart, form the platform, to carry equipment and are supported underneath with metal brackets. A leather cover is sown around the upper rail where the supports meet the crossbars. The curved front of the sledge is wound with thin rope. Underneath is a tow rope fixed to the four front uprights to distribute the towing load. A reversing tow rope is attached to the four rear uprights for pulling the sledge out backwards. According to analysis of the timer undertaken in 2009, the sledge is made of spotted gum, Corymbia (Eucalyptus) maculata.

Length 347cm (136inches = 11 ft 4inches)
Width: 52 cm (21 inches = 1 ft 9 inches)
Height: 20 cm (8 inches)


On top of crosspiece just decipherable are parts of the wording "Worsfold Sydney".



195 mm


540 mm



To equip his expedition, Mawson used as a model Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909, on which Mawson had participated. In 1911 Mawson travelled to London to purchase a ship, organise to borrow scientific equipment and for donations of stores as well as to raise funds. Almost all of the expeditioners' clothing was donated or purchased in London while sleeping bags, skis, sledges, boots and other special polar equipment was ordered from Lapland, Norway and Denmark. Some sledges and skis were also made in Australia.

Of the thirty-seven sledges used on Mawson's expedition twenty were made in Norway of ash and hickory. Nine of these were 12 ft (3.66 m) in length, another nine were 11 ft (3.35 m) and two were 7 ft (2.13 m). A further seventeen were made in Australia, thirteen of 12 ft (3.66 m) and four of 7 ft (2.13 m).

The Norwegian ones were most probably all made by L. Hagen & Co. of Christiania. Christiania was the original name for Oslo, the capital of Norway. The Australian ones, of which this sledge is an example, were supplied by Alexander Worsfold of King Street, St Peters, an inner Western Sydney suburb with the timber supplied by Allen Taylor (spotted gum). In 1915 Alexander Worsfold's letterhead advised he was a "wholesale manufacturer of motor and carriage ware, especially wheels and bodies". This was when motor cars bodies were still hand-built of timber. His printed letterhead further confirms his involvement in supplying several Antarctic explorers as it notes: "Specialities: Designer and Manufacturer of Sleighs, Skis, Toboggans and Antarctic Appliances for Dr Mawson's Expedition, Captain Scott's Relief, Professor David's Magnetic Discovery". Added in pen at the end of this list is: "Shackleton Expd 1914". In 1915 Worsfold wrote to the Museum seeking support for his application to help the war effort as he had specific knowledge of Australian timbers. He enlisted in the AIF and went into the 9th Australian Field Ambulance where he designed a portable stretcher and carriage. Worsfold also made the timber box kite for Lawrence Hargrave's experiments into early powered flight.

This Sydney-made sledge used timber which had been treated by the NSW Powell Wood Process Ltd who had a works at Berrys Bay on the North Shore near North Sydney. The "powellising" process was claimed to improve, strengthen and season timber.

Alfred Charles Samuels selected and prepared the Australian spotted gum grown in N.S.W. for the sledge. Samuels had assisted in the construction of the sledge because of his previous knowledge of conditions during the Klondike gold rush in North-West Canada between 1897-8. According to North Sydney Municipality's rate records, the south end of Bay Road was occupied by the Powell Wood Process, with A C Samuels as Manager and owned by Allen Taylor, Timber Merchants of Pyrmont, a suburb across the Harbour. Samuels was later Mayor of Manly in the 1920s.

This sledge is virtually identical to two other sledges taken on Robert Falcon Scott's 1910-1913 expedition in the Museum's collection H7342-1 and D8343. It is thought they were all made by Worsfold.



Mawson's expedition left Hobart on board the sailing ship "Aurora" on 2 December 1911 with the ship packed with supplies. The sledges were lashed to the ship's chart-house, an extension to the bridge, and on the poop deck. A research station was established in Antarctica at Cape Denison on Commonwealth Bay and the stores were brought across by sledges to the hut site, built by the 18 expeditioners during January 1912. The climate proved to be one continuous blizzard all year round and the onset of wintery weather saw the men inside the hut adapting their sledging gear and instruments to the severe conditions. Canvas sledging harnesses were made for both men and dogs and these were attached to the sledges by hauling ropes.

Some short sledging trips were initially made but in November 1912 the exploratory work began in earnest with six sledging parties organised, with three men in each party, to undertake mapping and magnetic observations. The sledging parties took three sledges each and Mawson noted in his book "The Home of the Blizzard" that his party's sledges comprised a principal sledge of 11 ft (3.35 m) length with an instrument box, cooker-box, kerosene tray, mast attachment, mast (for a sail), spar, rigging, leather straps, and a decking of canvas and bamboo. A second sledge was of a similar length decked with Venestra (trade name for a form of plywood) boarding and fitted with straps, while the third was 12 ft (3.66 m) long with strong rope lashing and spare spars acting as decking.

Each of the sledging parties had similar equipment loaded onto the 3 sledges and included: a Willesden-drill tent; 3 one-man reindeer fur sleeping bags; cooking equipment including mugs, spoons, scales, matches and fuel; a repair outfit with spare copper wire, needles and thread to repair the harnesses, tents and clothes; a medical kit with bandages, ophthalmic drugs for treating snow blindness, as well as scissors, forceps, scalpel and surgical needles; photographic equipment with a quarter-plate camera; and surveying equipment including a 3-inch transit theodolite, logarithmic tables, note books, maps, dividers, set squares, prismatic compass and clinometer. Other equipment taken included: binoculars, a hypsometer (for determining altitude), thermometers and specimen labels; "sporting" equipment including a 22-bore rifle, ammunition, knife, sharpening stone and fishing line; a waterproof clothes bag with reindeer skin boots (finnesko) stuffed with moisture-absorbent sennaegrass (a dry grass from Lapland) and spare clothing; a pick, spades, skies and boots, crampons, man harnesses and tow ropes. To set up depots they carried a depot flag and bamboo pole, stays and damp-proof tins to deposit records at depots. A total of 6 one-gallon (4.55 litre) tins of kerosene fuel, 9 weeks' supply of food for the men, and dried seal meat, blubber and pemmican for the dogs were also packed. The total weight of the three laden sledges was 1,723 lbs (781 kg)

Several years after the conclusion of the 1911-14 Mawson expedition the Australian Museum in College Street, Sydney, was given a collection of material including sledges and six boxes containing ice picks, crampons and clothing. It is believed that this material had come from the Commonwealth Government. The material remained in storage there and in 1964 the Deputy Director, H.O. Fletcher, felt it should be given to a museum or society where it could be properly used and exhibited. He contacted both the newly-established Mawson Institute at the University of Adelaide in South Australia and the Antarctic Division of the Commonwealth Department of Internal Affairs then based in Melbourne. Both institutions did not want to acquire the material so Fletcher contacted the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (now the Powerhouse Museum) which agreed to take three sledges. Three years later, in 1967, the Australian Museum again approached the Mawson Institute to offer the rest of the equipment.

This sledge was formerly transferred from the Australian Museum to the Powerhouse Museum in 1967. In 1983 comprehensive conservation work and some restoration work was undertaken by the Museum to repair the sledge.


Credit Line

Gift of Australian Museum, 1967

Acquisition Date

15 June 1967

Cite this Object


Antarctic sledge made by Alexander Worsfold, used on Douglas Mawson's Australian Antarctic Expedition 1911-1914 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 19 September 2020, <>


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