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Macquarie Island is a small and beautiful island in the Southern Ocean situated south east ofAustralia, about halfway to the Antarctic continent.
Discovery of the Island is attributed to Captain Frederick Hasselborough of the brig Perserverance in 1810. He named the island Macquarie after the then New South Wales Governor, Lachlan Macquarie.
Hasselborough and his crew were hunting the fur seals of Macquarie and they found large numbers of them. Soon after news of the richness of the sealing ground spread, many crews sailed south to Macquarie. During the next ten years at least 120,000 fur seals were killed for their skins. Ten years later the fur seal population was commercially unviable. People continued to visit Macquarie hunting elephant seals and penguins for their oil.
In 1911, men from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition established a small base and a radio relay station on Macquarie. This was the first significant scientific base on the island. The relay station, on Wireless Hill, was the first to establish radio links between Antarctica and Australia thereby breaking the long isolation that previously beset Antarctic expeditions.
Twenty one year old Leslie Russell Blake (1890 - 1918) joined the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1911 - 1914, as surveyor and geologist from the Geological Survey Department in Brisbane. During his stay on Macquarie Island, Blake travelled to many parts of the island, seeking geological samples and completing his survey. He stayed in sealers' huts at Sandy Bay and Lusitania Bay, establishing survey points, making his topographical sightings and assessing the local geology. Tragically, Blake was killed in France just before the end of the war.
The island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 and, with the establishment of the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Service in 1971, Macquarie Island became a conservation area. It was upgraded to a state reserve in 1972 and in 1978 was renamed the Macquarie Island Nature Reserve. In 1998 Macquarie Island was granted World Heritage Status.
In March 1948, at Buckles Bay, 13 men from ANARE established a scientific station that has been operating continuously ever since. On this first expedition, the men also landed 400 tonnes of supplies, Leicester sheep and Saanen goats to supply food for the expeditioners. On the return journey, six Gentoo penguins, six Rockhopper penguins and three young Elephant seals were collected for Melbourne Zoo.
Blake’s final map produced in 1913, shown here in manuscript, is still considered to be one of the finest surveys of Macquarie Island ever completed.
Macquarie Island image gallery
Once established on Macquarie the expeditioners moved around the island, assessing the wildlife, botany, geology and undertaking work on cosmic ray physics. The men found a beautiful island, a rich breeding ground for elephant seals and seabirds such as penguins and albatross. Extraordinary plants such as the ‘Macquarie Island cabbage’, (stilbocarpa polaris) which was also a source of nutrition during the sealing days, grew freely on the slopes of the island.
The presence of the expedition was a reminder to other nations that Australia was in possession of this small southern ocean wilderness. Operating a small post office was a part of the administrative support for this act of possession.
Ships like the Wyatt Earp and the Labuan brought supplies and exchanged personnel as the cycle of expeditioners moved through the seasons of work and assessment at Macquarie Island.