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Wilkins, George Hubert (1888 - 1958)

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Antarctic explorer and Arctic explorer
Born: 31 October 1888  Mount Bryan East, South Australia, Australia.  Died: 30 November 1958  Framingham, Massachusetts, United States of America.
(Sir) George Hubert Wilkins had a very varied career as a war correspondent and photographer, polar explorer (both Arctic and Antarctic), naturalist, geographer, climatologist and aviator. In April 1928, with Carl Ben Eielson as pilot, he flew from Point Barrow, Alaska, eastward over the Arctic Sea to Spitsbergen, Norway. This was the world’s first trans-Arctic flight and was described in his book Flying the Arctic (1928). This was only one of many works and photographs he had published. Wilkins was appointed a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Meteorological Society and was knighted in 1928.

Career Highlights
After completing engineering studies at the South Australian School of Mines and Industries, then photography and cinematography training in Adelaide and Sydney, George Hubert Wilkins left for England. He worked for the Gaumont Film Co. and as a newspaper reporter and cameraman where he got to travel widely. He also took flying lessons and experimented with aerial photography. During World War I Wilkins worked as a war correspondent and photographer and covered the 1912 fighting between the Turks and Bulgarians.

The following year Wilkins set off to the Arctic as second-in-command of the Vilhjalmur Stefansson Canadian Arctic expedition. He returned to Australia in 1917 and was commissioned as second lieutenant in the Australian Flying Corps. By August he had been transferred to the general list and then to the Anzac Corps headquarters on the Western Front. In April 1918 Wilkins was appointed official army photographer and in July was promoted captain and head of the No.3 (Photographic) Sub-section of the Australian War Records unit.

From 1920 to 1922 George Wilkins was employed on expeditions to the Polar regions. He was then sent to the Soviet Union to film and survey the effects of famine on the local population. From 1923 Wilkins spent two years in tropical Australia collecting plants, birds, insects, fish, minerals, fossils and Aboriginal artifacts for the British Museum. By 1926 he was back in the Arctic, but this time carrying out aerial explorations, although in 1931 he did unsuccessfully attempt to reach the North Pole by submarine. From 1928 to 1938 he carried out several aerial expeditions to Antarctica, where he advanced techniques of flying by moonlight, made scientific observations and experimented with telepathy.

As World War II broke out Wilkins was commissioned by the US Army as a consultant and geographer to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. He also held other defence-related scientific posts and served in the U.S. Weather Bureau and the Arctic Institute of North America. The Australian and British military forces rejected his offers of help due to his age.

1908 - 1912Newspaper Reporter and Cameraman for the Gaumont Film Co in England and War Correspondent and Photographer throughout Europe
1913 - 1916Second-in-command of the Vilhjalmur Stefansson Canadian Arctic expedition
1917 - 1920War service with the Australian Imperial Force
1918Military Cross (MC) and bar received
1919Photographer on the C. E. W. Bean lead reconstruction of Australia's campaign on the Gallipoli Peninsula
1920 - 1921Member of J L Cope's unsuccessful voyage to Graham Land
1921 - 1922Naturalist (ornithological observer) on Sir Ernest Shackleton's "Quest" expedition to the Antarctic
1922 - 1923Surveyed and filmed the effects of famine in the Soviet Union
1923 - 1925Worked at the British Museum in tropical Australia
1926 - 1928Aerial Arctic explorations including the first trans-Arctic flight (1928)
1928Patron's Medal received from the Royal Geographical Society of London
1928Samuel Finley Breese Morse Medal received from the American Geographical Society
1928Knight Bachelor (Kt cr)
1928 - 1939Aerial explorations of the Antarctic
1931First under-ice voyage by submarine in the Arctic Ocean with the goal to reach the North Pole
1942 - ?Consultant and Geographer to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps and advisor to the U.S. Weather Bureau and the Arctic Institute of North America
1955Honorary Doctor of Science (DSc) received from the University of Alaska

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Structure based on ISAAR(CPF) - click here for an explanation of the fields.Prepared by: Rosanne Walker & Annette Alafaci
Created: 30 June 1997
Modified: 29 January 2007

Published by The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre on ASAPWeb, 1994 - 2007
Originally published 1994-1999 by Australian Science Archives Project, 1999-2006 by the Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre
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Updated: 26 February 2007

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