Sir George Hubert Wilkins MC & Bar
(31 October 1888 - 30 November 1958) was an Australian
polar explorer, pilot, soldier, geographer and photographer.
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.
- 1928 Flying the Arctic, Grosset & Dunlap
- 1928 Undiscovered Australia, Putnam
- 1931 Under The North Pole, Brewer, Warren & Putnam
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