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Against all odds: the birth of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1955–1958

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 December 2011


Stephen Hicks
Affiliation:
Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand (hickss@xtra.co.nz)
Bryan Storey
Affiliation:
Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand (hickss@xtra.co.nz)
Philippa Mein Smith
Affiliation:
School of Humanities, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand
Corresponding
E-mail address:

Abstract

When the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1955–1958 advance party sailed from the Millwall Docks in November 1955, bound for the Weddell Sea, their departure was the product of five years of intensive effort on the part of Vivian Fuchs to achieve the first overland crossing of the Antarctic continent. This paper investigates the many obstacles that had to be overcome leading up to Theron sailing and explains the manner in which they were overcome by the Fuchs-Wordie-Clifford triumvirate. The British Foreign Office was particularly opposed to the expedition with the office's focus on sovereignty rather than science while an alternative proposal from Duncan Carse raised a unique set of difficulties. The withdrawal from involvement by the Scott Polar Research Institute Director, Colin Bertram, indicated further disaffection. Most important, if political and financial goals were to be met, was the need for participation by several Commonwealth countries of which New Zealand was the essential partner. Fortunately, the vigorous efforts of a few Antarctic enthusiasts in New Zealand were successful in moving their government to assert its long dormant position in the Ross Dependency. New Zealand's commitment turned the tide of commonwealth apathy towards the TAE. Although the TAE preceded the IGY, events, including the dominating IGY presence of the United States, caused the two projects to become tightly interwoven. For these reasons the years leading up to the departure of Theron were as intriguing as the crossing journey itself.


Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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