Remember I said in an earlier post that Caroline Mikkelsen was the first woman to land on Antarctica, with poor old Ingrid missing out on landing, even though she voyaged there three times before Caroline even went down?
A year or two ago when I started digging deeper into the story of who was the first woman to arrive on the continent, I found an article by some Australian researchers (Norman, Gibson and Burgess) who had gone back to the original Norwegian log books and documents relating to Caroline’s landing and examined them in detail. Caroline’s husband had left some coordinates for the landing site, but they didn’t match up properly with a place. Also, people living at Davis Station had found a Norwegian cairn and flag in a different spot and thought it must be Caroline’s. After assessing all the evidence, talking to the people at Davis who were doing a heritage study at the time (Sam Rando and Martin Davies) and noting the difficulty in taking accurate readings at the time of the landing (including problems with the ship’s chronometer) Norman and his colleagues concluded that the Davis Station people were right – Caroline’s landing party had pulled in on Tryne Island, not the mainland after all, possibly without realising they were on an island. That meant she wasn’t, in fact, the first woman to land on the continent.
I exchanged a few emails with Ian Norman earlier this year and he said that no one seemed much interested in the work. The nitpicking over which woman landed on the continent and where didn’t exactly set the world of polar studies on fire and it seemed like the matter had been left there.
It wasn’t till I got back to Davis Station from our field trip that that I discovered a few people are very interested in it and the question of Caroline’s landing place is still being explored out in the field. A chap called Alan Parker, who was the Davis Station leader back in 1977 and had a passion for history and for the surrounding area, developed another theory after living there and exploring the Vestfold Hills (where the landing took place). He thought it unlikely – even absurd – that the Mikkelsen landing party wouldn’t have known they were on an island and that for such an historic moment as the landing of the first woman (plus the slight possibility of claiming some territory for Norway) they would have made sure they were on the mainland. Alan’s theory is that this is the wrong cairn, and that the real landing place hasn’t been found yet.
Now that’s more like it. A bit of intrigue and mystery. Alan thinks that the cairn, flagpole and flag on Tryne Island (which were found by John Molle and Ken Barratt from Davis Station in 1960) were put there secretly by Norwegian crewmen on the ship Wyatt Earp from the 1939 Ellesworth expedition.
It sounds like on that expedition everyone had a go at laying down cairns and flags and claiming a bit of Antarctica. While the American Ellsworth was making his main flight over the Vestfold Hills, Aussie explorer Hubert Wilkins snuck ashore at Walkabout Rocks and laid down a cairn, a flag and some documents claiming the surrounding area for Australia. Alan Parker reckons the Norwegian crew took the chance while both those men were away from the ship to sneak over to Tryne Island and make their own secret claim for Norway to counter any other claims, and that is the site that’s now thought to be Caroline’s landing place. His evidence is that when the Tryne Islands spot was discovered in 1960, the items that Klarius Mikkelsen had said were left in a depot (a box of food and a box of clothes) were gone, plus the supports for the flagpole were gone, and the canister containing the flag was wedged into a crack of rock rather than a large cairn of stones as shown in the photograph of them raising the flag. The canister was in bad condition, rusty and full of holes and there was not much inside that had survived the elements, according to Ken Barratt, apart from the flag. So no documentation to show whose cairn it was.
As an author I love this theory. Chaps sneaking around and hiding things, mistaken identities and the prospect of an undiscovered treasure – Caroline’s real landing site. Alan Parker has worked out a location based on close analysis of the written descriptions and for the past 20 odd years has been encouraging expeditioners from Davis to go out and search for the real site, providing them with drawings and coordinates of where he thinks it is.
Have they been looking? In the pile of papers Cookie left for me are some snippets of email printouts. They’re pretty mysterious in themselves, just bits and pieces, but they do recount some pretty determined efforts to locate Caroline’s cairn.
I have to pin Cookie down later on over dinner and get him to tell me that part of the story again.
I wish I’d known this when I was standing out there looking at the cairn itself. Although there was a lot of snow around and it would have been hard to compare the rocks with those in the old photographs of the landing. But I could have had a try.
More soon. We’re scooting along at such a good speed now it looks like we’ll be back in Hobart 3 or 4 days early, so I’d best get back to the novel for a while. And that’s probably enough history for one day.