The people have spoken! After showcasing the fascinating history of Antarctic explorers and their daring tales of ingenuity, we received numerous impassioned emails from our readers urging us to explore the life of an oft-forgotten hero. We soon found ourselves captivated by the extraordinary tales of Hubert Wilkins – a name that resonates with the spirit of adventure Aurora Expeditions was founded on.
In a life filled with extraordinary adventures, Sir George ‘Hubert’ Wilkins is particularly noted for his ‘firsts’, including flights across the Arctic and Antarctic, and taking a submarine beneath the frozen Arctic Ocean.
In response to your enthusiastic requests, this blog post embarks on a journey into the riveting life of Hubert Wilkins, whose exploits and unparalleled ‘firsts’ spanned the icy terrains of the Arctic and the uncharted expanses of the Antarctic. From filming battles in the Balkan War to navigating the polar skies, read on to discover how Wilkins left an indelible mark on exploration.
Born in outback Australia in 1888, Wilkins studied engineering at the Adelaide School of Mines before travelling to England as a stowaway and becoming an aerial cinematographer.
He became one of the first people to film a battle, during the Balkan War of 1912–13, and his prowess with the camera earned him an invite to join the Canadian Arctic Expedition in 1913. During this expedition, he and Expedition Leader Vilhjalmar Stefansson became separated from their vessel, and narrowly escaped with their lives after hiking hundreds of kilometres across the sea ice.
Wilkins ventured to Antarctica for the first time in 1920 with the British Graham Land Expedition and, the following year, joined the Shackleton-Rowett Quest Expedition as an ornithologist.
His aerial feats soared to new heights in 1928 when, with Pilot Carl Ben Eielson, he executed the longest flight in a polar region, a trans-Arctic flight from Alaska to Spitsbergen.
The subsequent Wilkins–Hearst Antarctic Expedition in the same year saw him achieve the first Antarctic flight and discover 1000 miles of unexplored territory. Over the next decade, Wilkins revisited Antarctica multiple times, contributing to exploration and scientific understanding.
Not content with adventuring in the air, he bought a submarine and became the first to venture under the Arctic Sea ice, in 1931. He attempted to reach the North Pole by taking a surplus US Navy submarine, Nautilus, under the pack ice.
Mishaps and mechanical failures caused the venture to be abandoned, however the crew was able to take core samples of the ice, as well as test the salinity of the water and gravity near the pole.
Despite the failure to meet his intended objective, he was able to prove that submarines could operate beneath the polar ice cap, paving the way for future successful missions.
Throughout his life, Hubert Wilkins gained vital scientific insights into a range of fields. His vast knowledge led him to become a consultant in polar survival for the US Government. He also contributed improvements to weather forecasting and developed techniques for flying at night.
While Hubert’s immense contributions to polar exploration are undeniable, he is occasionally omitted from compilations of notable Antarctic explorers, (even by us!). However, a closer look at his unparalleled achievements reveals a legacy that resonates deeply.
To our readers who reached out, thank you for passionately reminding us of his significance and underlining the impact he had on the exploration landscape.
Keen to learn more about the passionate explorers who ventured to the polar regions to complete their own firsts? Read more here.
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