Lt. Belgrave Edward Sutton Ninnis was also out sledging in Antarctica in 1912, and having a hell of a time of it, too. But he was a thousand miles from Scott’s hut on Cape Evans.
Ninnis was on Sir Douglas Mawson’s expedition to survey Adelieland, a slice of Antarctica south of Australia. Ninnis helped handle the expedition’s huskies and became one of Mawson’s two most trusted men. Just 25 years old and, as the picture illustrates, cute as a button, Ninnis was adored by Mawson, who called him “Cherub.”
On December 14th, 400 miles from the safety of camp, Ninnis hopped off his sledge to investigate a crevasse. He went straight through a snow bridge that two men and another loaded sledge had already crossed, taking six dogs, the team’s only tent, and nearly all their food to a bottom that lay far out of sight. One dog hit a snow ledge partway down and Mawson watched it die from the impact. There was no sound from Ninnis, and no hope.
Ninnis’s health had been declining in the previous few days. But they had turned for home, they were running on a slight downhill, and there were three of them to help with the pulling. The sun was shining. And then he was falling.
Scott’s team had its share of hardship and misfortune. But they fell through crevasse after crevasse and never lost a man to one. For it to happen out of the blue to young Ninnis seemed to Mawson the act of an angry god.
With no food and only a makeshift tent, Mawson and companion Xavier Mertz said prayers over the crevasse, named the glacier for Ninnis, and bent for home. On the way they ate the rest of their dogs – right down to their thyroid glands – and unknowingly poisoned themselves with dog liver. Only Mawson made it back.
It’s all recorded in Lennard Bickel’s harrowing (if oddly subtitled) “Mawson’s Will: The Greatest Polar Survival Story Ever Written.”
Don’t worry – this isn’t the start of yet another weekly Antarctic-disaster feature. I just thought it was a good week to remember all those good men who have been taken abruptly from their families.