All About Macquarie Island

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. We’re retelling Mary’s tale and talking more about Macquarie Island where this was all to take place…

Named after Lachlan Macquarie, an early governor of the Australian state of New South Wales, the Macquarie Island is located in the South Western part of the Pacific Ocean approximately 1 280 km (800 miles) south of Tasmania and approximately 1 440 km (900 miles) from the Antarctic “mainland” – at 54° 30′ S, 158° 57′ E.


Australian possessions in this area include Macquarie Island, Judge and Clerk Islets about 16 km (9 miles) to the north and the Bishop and Clerk Islets 36 km (20 miles) to the south  –  the latter being the furthest point south belonging to Australia. Of volcanic origins, the island is about 37 km (21 miles) long and a mere 3.5 km (2 miles) wide and is made up of two parts connected by a narrow isthmus on which is found the permanent ANARE base.

The island’s high points include Mount Elder on the north-east coastal ridge at 385 m (1,263 ft), and Mounts Hamilton and Fletcher in the south at 410 m (1,345 ft).

Macquarie’s climate is kept moderate by the surrounding sea and because of this (and although snow is common between June and October and may even fall in the island’s summer) the average temperature in every month of the year is above freezing.

Average daily maximum temperatures range from 4.9°C (40.8°F) in July to 8.8 °C (47.8 °F) in January. Precipitation occurs fairly evenly throughout the year and averages 967.9 mm (38.11 in) annually.

Month Average high °C Average low °C Average precipitation mm Average precipitation days Average relative humidity (%) Mean monthly sunshine hours
Jan 8.8 5.3 86.7 25.4 84 114.7
Feb 8.7 5.3 85 24.1 85 104.5
Mar 8 4.7 99.7 27.1 86 86.8
Apr 7 3.7 93.4 27.2 87 54
May 5.9 2.5 84 28.1 87 31
Jun 5 1.5 76.6 26.9 87 18
Jul 4.9 1.6 73.4 27.1 88 24.8
Aug 5.1 1.6 74.6 27.3 87 43.4
Sep 5.4 1.5 74.6 26.2 85 69
Oct 5.8 2 77.9 26.3 83 99.2
Nov 6.5 2.7 72.3 25 83 108
Dec 7.9 4.3 78.5 24.7 83 108.5
Year av. 6.6 3.1 81.4 26.3 85 71.8


Climate Data taken from the Australian Bureau of Meteorolgy

Macquarie Island’s average of only 856 hours of sunshine per year makes it one of the cloudiest places on Earth. It would appear, though, to have been (comparatively) mild during Mary’s stay on the island  with this seemingly borne out by the fact that, in Mary’s photographs featuring people, everyone appears to be dressed in shorts!

However, in her diary, she writes thus, “Wind speeds rise at times to more than than 100 m.p.h…. There is an almost constant screaming of air through the overhead wires at the research station…”

ANARE’s Macquarie Island Station was established at the foot of Wireless Hillon on the isthmus at the northern end of the island on 25th March 1948.


This base has been in continuous operation ever since (with, currently, a population of between 20 and 40 people over the year) so it was well into its twelfth year of existence when Mary and her colleagues made their December 1959 visit.

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
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