Cracking the Antarctic

At the tail end of December in 1959 Mary Gillham and 3 other female scientists became the first British and Australian females to join a research trip in the Antarctic. The likelihood of females joining future research trips would depend on the success of these ground-breaking women. Over the next two weeks we’ll be retelling Mary’s tale and talking more about Macquarie Island where this was all to take place…

In December of 1959, the quartet of Isobel Bennett, Hope MacPherson (Australian), Susan Ingham and Mary Gillham (British) became members of the first Australian expedition of female scientists to the Antarctic when they visited Macquarie Island where an all-male group – members of an Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition (ANARE) – had been in existence at a shore camp for a number of years previously.

How news of the women heading to Macquarie was reported by the New Zealand Antarctic Society. Click HERE to download the complete bulletin.


The four female scientists were present to support the on-going study of aspects of animal and plant life on the Island with marine biologists Isobel and Hope looking at the ecology of inter-tidal origins and shells respectively, biologist Susan at the lives of Bandit Penguins, Wandering Albatrosses and Elephant Seals while botanist Mary’s brief was to analyse the effects of sea birds on the island’s vegetation.

Not only were the women to be as equally involved as the men in their scientific work on the island but, it would be fair to say, that that work and the women’s ability to “fit in” would come under scrutiny with some on positions of authority casting strong doubts on the place of females in Antarctic explorations.

Were this first ever placement to be anything but a resounding success, it would not be an understatement to say that the involvement of female scientists in future such work would have been greatly hindered and delayed…

Official letter agreeing to Mary’s participation in the Macquarie expedition – with provisos! Also note suggested clothing and equipment.
The agreement that Mary had to sign in order to join the expedition.

Read on tomorrow!

Reference material and further reading:

Thanks to John Wilkins (MGAP volunteer) for coordinating this series of Macquarie blogs.


The Mary Gillham Archive Project is funded by HLF and managed by SEWBReC
hlf small

3 thoughts on “Cracking the Antarctic

  1. Pingback: Women in Antarctica – Mary Gillham Archive Project

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s