History of the TAE and the IGY

Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition and International Geophysical Year

Credit: Canterbury Museum

Fresh from conquering Mount Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary was enlisted to lead the New Zealand party that would lay supply depots from the Ross Sea towards the South Pole for the first trans-Antarctic crossing.

Led by the then Dr Vivian Fuchs, the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) 1955–1958 planned to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea. Pram Point, on the edge of the McMurdo ice shelf and four kilometres from the United States’ McMurdo Station, was chosen as the site for Scott Base.

In January 1957 the team completed the buildings (six interconnecting units and three detached science buildings) that would form the antecedents of the modern-day Scott Base. A party of 23 men wintered over at the newly formed base.

Murray Douglas at the door of the Scott Base hut.

The image of Hillary and his team in Antarctica on their TE 20 Ferguson tractors is an enduring one. Ably supported by dogs and aircraft, Hillary succeeded in completing his task for the TAE and, in a final push, gained the South Pole, accomplishing the third overland trip to the Pole, following in the footsteps of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. Two months later Fuchs's party arrived at Scott Base to world acclaim, completing the first overland crossing of the Antarctic continent and gathering useful scientific information on the way.

Hillary and some of the crew from the Trans-Antarctic Expedition in Ferguson tractors

In a little more than a year on the Ice, Hillary’s TAE/IGY party had established Scott Base, supported Fuchs and explored and mapped considerable areas of the Ross Sea region and the Transantarctic Mountains, laying the foundations for the more detailed mapping and geology that was to follow. The remaining original building (‘Hut A’) represents the beginning of the modern era of the study of the continent from the Ross Sea region and marks the foundation of New Zealand’s Scott Base.

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