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Biographical entry Wilkins, George Hubert (1888 - 1958)

Kt cr, FRGS, FRMS

Born
31 October 1888
Mount Bryan East, South Australia, Australia
Died
30 November 1958
Framingham, Massachusetts, United States of America
Occupation
Antarctic explorer and Arctic explorer

Summary

Sir Hubert Wilkins had a very varied career as a war correspondent and photographer, polar explorer (both Arctic and Antarctic), naturalist, geographer, climatologist and aviator. In April 1928, with Carl Ben Eielson as pilot, he flew from Point Barrow, Alaska, eastward over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen, Norway. This was the world's first trans-Arctic flight and was described in his book Flying the Arctic (1928). This was only one of many works and photographs he had published. Wilkins was appointed a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Meteorological Society and was knighted in 1928.

Details

After completing engineering studies at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, then photography and cinematography training in Adelaide and Sydney, George Hubert Wilkins left for England. He worked for the Gaumont Film Co. and as a newspaper reporter and cameraman where he got to travel widely. He also took flying lessons and experimented with aerial photography. During World War I Wilkins worked as a war correspondent and photographer and covered the 1912 fighting between the Turks and Bulgarians.

The following year Wilkins set off to the Arctic as second-in-command of the Vilhjalmur Stefansson Canadian Arctic expedition. He returned to Australia in 1917 and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps. By August he had been transferred to the general list and then to the Anzac Corps headquarters on the Western Front. In April 1918 Wilkins was appointed official army photographer and in July was promoted captain and head of the No.3 (Photographic) Sub-section of the Australian War Records unit.

From 1920 to 1922 George Wilkins was employed on expeditions to the Polar regions. He was then sent to the Soviet Union to film and survey the effects of famine on the local population. From 1923 Wilkins spent two years in tropical Australia collecting plants, birds, insects, fish, minerals, fossils and Aboriginal artefacts for the British Museum. By 1926 he was back in the Arctic, but this time carrying out aerial explorations, although in 1931 he did unsuccessfully attempt to reach the North Pole by submarine. From 1928 to 1938 he carried out several aerial expeditions to Antarctica, where he advanced techniques of flying by moonlight, made scientific observations and experimented with telepathy.

As World War II broke out Wilkins was commissioned by the US Army as a consultant and geographer to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He also held other defence-related scientific posts and served in the U.S. Weather Bureau and the Arctic Institute of North America. The Australian and British military forces rejected his offers of help due to his age.

Events

1908 - 1912
Career position - Newspaper Reporter and Cameraman for the Gaumont Film Co in England and War Correspondent and Photographer throughout Europe
1913 - 1916
Career position - Second-in-command of the Vilhjalmur Stefansson Canadian Arctic expedition
1917 - 1920
Career position - War service with the Australian Imperial Force
1918
Award - Military Cross (MC) and bar received
January 1919
Photographer on the C. E. W. Bean lead reconstruction of Australia's campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula
1920 - 1921
Career position - Member of J L Cope's unsuccessful voyage to Graham Land
1921 - 1922
Career position - Naturalist (ornithological observer) on Sir Ernest Shackleton's "Quest" expedition to the Antarctic
1922 - 1923
Career position - Surveyed and filmed the effects of famine in the Soviet Union
1923 - 1925
Career position - Worked at the British Museum in tropical Australia
1926 - 1928
Career position - Aerial Arctic explorations including the first trans-Arctic flight (1928)
1928
Award - Knight Bachelor (Kt cr)
1928
Award - Patron's Medal received from the Royal Geographical Society of London
1928
Award - Samuel Finley Breese Morse Medal received from the American Geographical Society
1928 - 1939
Career position - Aerial explorations of the Antarctic
1931
Career position - First under-ice voyage by submarine in the Arctic Ocean with the goal to reach the North Pole
1942 - ?
Career position - Consultant and Geographer to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps and advisor to the U.S. Weather Bureau and the Arctic Institute of North America
1955
Education - Honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) received from the University of Alaska

Archival resources

Byrd Polar Research Center

  • The Papers of Sir George Hubert Wilkins, c. 1908 - 1987; Byrd Polar Research Center. Details

Published resources

Books

  • Nasht, Simon, The Last Explorer: Hubert Wilkins Australia's Unknown Hero, Hodder Australia, Sydney, 2006, 346 pp. Details

Book Sections

  • Swan, R. A., 'Wilkins, Sir George Hubert (1888-1958), War Correspondent and Photographer, Polar Explorer, Naturalist, Geographer, Climatologist and Aviator', in John Ritchie (ed.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 12, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1990, pp. 488-490. Also available at http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A120549b.htm. Details

Journal Articles

  • 'Sir Hubert's Life Celebrated', Australian Geographic Society Members Newsletter, July 2001, 2001, p. 1. Details

Newspaper Articles

  • Lord, Gillian, 'Our unkown Aussie hero', The Canberra Times - Panorama section, 22 October 2005, p. 8. Details

Online Resources

See also

Rosanne Walker & Annette Alafaci