Protective clothing worn on Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1913, by Charles Francis Laseron

Contributed by: Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences

Overalls used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Overalls used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Snow helmet used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Snow helmet used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Belt used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Harness used by Charles Francis Laseron during Sir Douglas Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914 Silver medal awarded to Charles Francis Laseron for his part in the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1912-1914
  • Australian dress register ID:

    504
  • Owner:

    Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
  • Owner registration number:

    98/55/1
  • Date range:

    1911 - 1913
  • Place of origin:

    England
  • Gender:

    Male
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Object information

Significance statement

These items of protective clothing were worn by Charles Francis Laseron who worked as a taxidermist, biological collector and Mawson's general scientific assistant on Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) between 1912 and 1913. They are part of a collection of protective clothing worn by Laseron on the AA expedition and are indicative of some of the equipment necessary to survive and work in the harsh conditions of Antarctica. Along with related items in the collection, they signify Australia's immense contribution to exploration and scientific research in the Antarctic region and provide insight into a story of adventure, hardship and tragedy in a time of heroic Antarctic exploration.

Led by (Sir) Douglas Mawson, the AAE charted and explored sections of the Antarctic coast south of Australia. The expedition also successfully used radio communications for the first time in Antarctica and carried out valuable studies in geology, biology, meteorology, magnetism and oceanography. 

Alongside the later Australian and New Zealand Antarctic Research Expedition (BANZARE) of 1929-1930, the AAE laid the basis for Australia's claims to almost 42 per cent of the Antarctic continent and resulted in some of the most important Australian scientific undertakings and discoveries of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the expedition was not without hardship and tragedy. During the summer of 1912-1913, through unavoidable circumstances, Moyes was left to carry on work alone at the AAE base for a period of nine weeks. Several reminiscences were later published by Moyes describing his torrid experiences during this time.

Further to this, during a sledging expedition undertaken by Douglas Mawson, Xavier Mertz and Belgrade Ninnis, an accident occurred whereby a team of six dogs, a sledge containing most of the party's food and Ninnis himself, fell into a deep crevasse. Attempting to make their way back to the base 500 kilometres away, Mawson and Mertz were forced to eat their remaining dogs for food. One hundered kilometres away from their hut Mertz died and Mawson was left to complete the journey by himself arriving back at the AAE base on the 29th of January, 1913, only to find that his ship and all but six of his team had already set sail for Australia.

Author: Michelle Brown, Assistant Curator (02/02/2007), revised by Rebecca Anderson, PHM Curatorial Volunteer, 04/12//2013.

Description

These trouser overalls were created by Burberry plc. in London, England. They are made from heavy cotton twill, a cloth that can breathe and keep reasonably dry even under the most inclement conditions. They are light brown in colour and have a beige coloured waist band sewn into their inside. The trouser overall's waist is very large, presumably to accommodate all of the clothing and undergarments the explorer would have worn underneath it. The sides attach together with wooden toggles and the waist belt attaches with large buttons. There are button holes at the front and back of the trousers, which are presumably where a set of braces would have attached.

This snow helmet, which is kaki green in colour, consists of a head to shoulder duffled covering with a pipe-framed bucket hood around the face. It is made out of canvas and the hood has a single button fastening at its base. There is a long thin piece of beige coloured cotton roughly-sewn onto each side of the garment, presumably to help secure it to the head.

This belt consists of a woven khaki cotton waist band with metal clasps on either end which serve to fasten it together. Two woven cotton tabs, with metal buckles attached to them, have been sewn onto the centre-back of the outside of the belt. A grey coloured circle with an arrow inside it has been hand drawn on the inside centre of the belt.

This harness consists of a wide, beige coloured, woven cotton waist band with a thickly woven cylindrical rope attached to its middle. Two, thinner, shoulder straps of the same material are attached to the outside of the waistband. The harness seems to have been hand made and hand stitched areas are visible around the top of the waistband. An additional strap has been hand sewn onto the shoulder strap which sits across the left side of the chest. This strap fastens to the other shoulder strap which sits on the right hand side of the chest, with a wooden toggle.

Link to further information about this object

History and Provenance

Charles Francis Laseron (1887-1959) was born on the 6th of December 1887 at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, United States of America, to parents Rev. David Laseron (an Episcopalian clergyman) and Frances, née Bradley, both of East German origin.  In 1888 the family migrated from Wisconsin to London, migrating again in 1891 to Sydney. In 1896 Charles' father took charge of a parish in the Lithgow area of NSW. Charles received his early schooling in Lithgow but was later educated at St Andrew's Cathedral Choir School, Sydney.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

Charles Laseron is an important figure in the history of the Powerhouse Museum (formerly the Sydney Technological Museum). Between 1906 and 1929 Laseron worked for the Museum as the officer in charge of Applied Arts, also distinguishing himself as a collector for the Museum during this time.

In 1911 Laseron was given leave from the Museum to join the Australasian Antarctic Expedition of 1911-1914, directed by the Australian geologist, Sir Douglas Mawson. Based in Adelie Land between January 1912 and February 1913, he served as the expidition's taxidermist, biological collector and general scientific assistant. During his time in Antarctica Laseron took part in two major sledging journeys, making discoveries in geology and biology during the expedition's survey of the Antarctic coast.

In September 1914, not long after his return to Sydney, Laseron enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; however he became wounded on the second day of the Gallipoli insurgence and returned to Sydney, becoming discharged in 1916.  Laseron then returned to the Museum, making important contributions to research in the area of Applied Arts until 1929 when he left the Museum to become an antique dealer and auctioneer.

With the onset of WW11, Laseron again enlisted in the A.I.F., this time as a map-reading instructor. In 1944 heath related troubles, including bronchitis, resulted in his discharge and he then dedicated himself to writing and promoting the natural sciences. In 1952 the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, of which he had been a councillor, conferred on him its fellowship and he became an honorary correspondent of the Australian Museum.

Laseron received few honours during his life; though these did include a Polar Medal, received for the work he undertook in Antarctica, and the bestowal of his name on various new genera and species of molluscs, received as a result of his notable contributions to Australian malacology (the branch of invertebrate zoology that deals with the study of the mollusc). He is also remembered today for his contribution to the development of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (leter called the Powerhouse Museum) and his role as one of the Museum's most dedicated and distinguished early contributors.

Where did this information come from?

Australian Dictionary of Biography Online: http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/laseron-charles-francis-carl-7038

Davison, Graeme and Kimberley Webber (eds), 'Yesterday's Tomorrow: The Powerhouse Museum and its Precursors 1880-2005', Powerhouse Publishing, Sydney, 2005

Haywood, Elizabeth, 'Australian Antarctica: Celebrating fifty years of Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions', Australia Post Philatelic Group, Melbourne, 1997

Laseron, Charles, 'South with Mawson: reminiscences of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition', Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1957

Mortimer, Gavin, 'Shackleton and the Antarctic Explorers: The men who battled to reach the South Pole', Carlton Books Ltd, Dubai, 1999

Wheeler, Barbara and Linda Young, 'Antarctica in museums: the Mawson collections in Australia', Polar Record 36 (198): 193-202, United Kingdom, 2000

This garment has been exhibited

Trouser overalls: Currently located in the Harwood Building Level 1 - Textile store

Snow Helmet: Currently located in the Harwood Building Level 1 - Textile store

Belt: Currently located in the Harwood Building Level 1

Harness: Currently on display at Castle Hill E Store Level 2 - Display Store - Powerhouse Discovery Centre, Castle Hill

  1. Place of origin:

    England

  2. Owned by:

    Charles Francis Laseron

  3. Worn by:

    Worn by Charles Francis Laseron in his role as taxidermist and biological collector on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1912-1913.

  4. Occasion(s):

    Worn by Charles Francis Laseron on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Douglas Mawson, between 1912 and 1913.

  5. Place:

    Shackleton Ice Shelf, Antarctica.

  6. Made by:

    Overalls: Made in England by Burberry.

    Snow Helmet: Made in England by Burberry.

    Belt: Maker unknown.

    Harness: It is probable that this was made by Charles Francis Laseron in Antarctica.

  7. Made for:

    Participants of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Douglas Mawson.

Trimmings / Decoration

This pair of overalls is unadorned.

This snow helmet is unadorned.

This belt have a grey coloured circle with an arrow inside it, hand drawn on the inside centre of the belt.

This harness is unadorned.

Fibre / Weave

These overalls are made out of brown coloured cotton twill, possibly coloured using natural dye.

This snow helmet is made out of kaki green coloured cotton twill, possibly coloured using natural dye.

This belt is made out of kaki coloured cotton twill, possibly coloured using natural dye.

This harness is made out of beige coloured cotton twill, it appears to be undyed.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye

Manufacture

This snow helmet and these trouser overllas were made around 1911 by the famous London clothing firm, Burberry,  now a luxury fashion company. In 1879 Thomas Burberry invented a weatherproof cloth that could breathe and keep cool under the most inclement conditions. He went on to create the foundation of a business that went on to serve men everywhere, from the trenches of World War I to the windswept polar regions of Antarctica. Burberry fitted out the Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen polar expeditions as well as Mallory’s 1924 ill-fated attempt on Everest.

This belt was manufactured in England around 1911.  

It is probable that this harness was hand made in Antarctica around 1912 by Charles Laseron himself, as all expeditioners had to make their own harnesses.

Label

No labels.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other

Cut

These trouser overalls were designed with a very large waist, presumably to accommodate all of the clothing and undergarments the explorer would have worn underneath them. The partially open sides of the overalls attach together with wooden toggles and the waist belt attaches with large buttons. The open sides and large waist of the trousers would have made them easy to put on over woollen garments, while the large toggles and buttons made it easier to dress in freezing conditions when the dexterity of hands was severely hampered by mittens.

This snow helmet was shaped in a way that allowed it to fit over the top of layers of protective, insulating, clothing. The bottom of the snow helmet flares out, enabling it to sit over the collar of the wearer's jacket and it is large enough to fit over a balaclava. The pipe-framed bucket hood, which fitted around the wearers face and fastened at the bottom with a single button, has been reinforced with machine stitching.

This belt has a set of clasps which fold the fabric of the belt upon itself, allowing its length to be adjusted. The fabric itself has not been shaped in any specific way, however it is made out of thick and robust woven cotton twill, a material which was likely chosen for its appropriateness.

This harness was shaped in a way that allowed it to fit over the top of layers of protective, insulating, clothing. There is a chest strap on the harness' front which fastens with a wooden toggle. The waist strap of this harness is unusual by modern standards as it is very large. It would have been very easy for the adventurers to step into this harness and it would have only pulled tight when the adventurers where actually pulling their sledges.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight

Fastenings

This pair of trouser overalls fastens with a button-up waist strap which is attached to the inside back of the overalls. The sides open at the waist and these fasten with a single wooden toggle.

This snow helmet's hood is fastened with a single button at its base next to the chin. In addition to this, the helmet has two long thin cotton strips on either side of its head. These tie together (at the back of the head) to help keep the hood in place in the extremely windy conditions.

This belt fastens with a metal hook and clasp. The hook and the clasp are both able to slide up and down the belt, enabling it to be adjusted.  

This harness has only one fastening, a wooden toggle that attaches the chest strap in place. This toggle appears to be hand carved and the cotton loop it fits into has been hand sewn onto the harness.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

These overalls contain no stiffening, lining or padding.

This snow helmet's round, pipe-framed, bucket hood has been reinforced with machine stitching and wire. It is unlined.

This belt contains no stiffening, lining or padding.  

This harness is made out of thick cotton twill which has been doubled over to add a slight padding to the harness and to make it more robust.

Measurements

Trouser overalls: No dimensions as yet

Snow Helmet: No dimensions as yet

This belt is 929mm long and 75mm deep.

Theis harness measures 290mm accross its chest. The inside hem circumference of the waist belt is 1345mm. The rope that attaches to the back of the waist belt measures 1170mm long from centre back of harness to tip.

Condition

State

  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor

Damage

  1. Brittle
  2. Crease
  3. Discolouration
  4. Fading
  5. Stained
  6. Water damage
  7. Worn

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