Wilkins, Sir George Hubert

Wilkins, Sir George Hubert

Wilkins, Sir George Hubert, 1888-1958, British explorer, b. Australia. He made a number of trips to Antarctica and to the Arctic. Valuable experience gained when he accompanied Vilhjalmur Stefansson's expedition (1913-18) to the Arctic and Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition (1921-22) to Antarctica prepared Wilkins to assume the leadership in the following years of a number of polar expeditions. A pioneer in the method of air exploration, he was the first to fly (1928) from North America to the European polar regions, traveling from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitsbergen; his Flying the Arctic (1928) described his observations during the flights. He was knighted that year. He commanded an antarctic exploration (1928-29) when flights were made in the region of the Antarctic Peninsula, and in 1931 he headed a submarine expedition to the Arctic, an exploit depicted in his Under the North Pole (1931). Though mechanical difficulties made it impossible for his submarine, the Nautilus, to reach the North Pole, Wilkins's work was to be very valuable for future arctic exploration by submarine. From 1933 to 1939 he was manager for Lincoln Ellsworth's transantarctic expeditions. During World War II and afterward, Wilkins served as a geographer for the British army.
Sir George Hubert Wilkins MC & Bar (31 October 1888 - 30 November 1958) was an Australian polar explorer, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer.

Early life

Wilkins was a native of Hallett, South Australia, the last of 13 children in a family of pioneer settlers and sheep farmers. As a teenager, he moved to Adelaide where he found work with a traveling cinema, and thence to England where he became a pioneering aerial photographer whilst working for Gaumont Studios. His photographic skill earned him a place on various Arctic expeditions, including the controversial 1913 Vilhjalmur Stefansson-led Canadian Arctic Expedition.

World War I

In 1917, Wilkins returned to his native Australia, joining the Australian Flying Corps in the rank of Second Lieutenant. Wilkins later transferred to the general list and in 1918 was appointed as an official war photographer. In June 1918 Wilkins was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts to rescue wounded soldiers during the Third Battle of Ypres. The following month Wilkins was promoted to Captain and became officer commanding No.3 (Photographic) Sub-section of the Australian war records unit. His work frequently led him into the thick of the fighting and during the Battle of the Hindenburg Line he assummed command of a group of American soldiers who had lost their officers in an earlier attack, directing them until support arrived. Wilkins was subsequently awarded a bar to his Military Cross.

Later Life & Career

In 1923 Wilkins began a comprehensive study of northern Australia for the British Museum. His work was greatly acclaimed by the museum but derided by Australian authorities because of the sympathetic treatment afforded the Aboriginals.

On 22 April 1928, only a year after Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, Wilkins and his pilot Carl Ben Eielson made a trans-Arctic crossing from Point Barrow, Alaska, to Spitsbergen, touching along the way at Grant Land on Ellesmere Island. For this feat and his prior work, Wilkins was knighted, and during the ensuing celebration, he met and married actress Suzanne Bennett.

Now financed by William Randolph Hearst, Wilkins continued his polar explorations, now flying over Antarctica. He named the island of Hearst Land after his sponsor, and Hearst thanked Wilkins by giving him and his bride a flight aboard Graf Zeppelin.

Wilkins led the failed Nautilus expedition to the North Pole in the summer of 1931. Despite the failure to meet his intended objective, he was able to prove that submarines were capable of operating beneath the polar ice cap, thereby paving the way for future successful missions.

Wilkins died in the United States in 1958. The US Navy took his ashes to the North Pole aboard the submarine USS Skate on 17 March 1959.

The majority of Wilkins' papers and effects are archived at The Ohio State University Byrd Polar Research Center.

Scholars and researchers acknowledge that Wilkins was one of the most accomplished and acclaimed explorers of the 20th Century but is greatly under-reported mainly because of his "aggressive modesty".

The Wilkins Sound and the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica are named after him.

See also

Works

  • 1928 Flying the Arctic, Grosset & Dunlap
  • 1928 Undiscovered Australia, Putnam
  • 1931 Under The North Pole, Brewer, Warren & Putnam

Further reading

Copyright 2006, updated continuously, ISSN 1833-7538, published by Australian National University

  • Thomas, Lowell Sir Hubert Wilkins: His World of Adventure McGraw-Hill 1961
  • Nasht, Simon The Last Explorer: Hubert Wilkins Australia’s Unknown Hero Hachette 2005
  • Voyage of the Nautilus Documentary 2006
  • Jenness, Stuart E.The Making of an Explore, McGill Queen University Press 2006

External links

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