FRANK WILD (1874-1939)
Autograph letter signed to [Alfred?] Reid, [Melbourne], 21 October 1911, on paper with printed heading of Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 4 pages, 4to (some soiling to fourth page).
The 'smash up' of the expedition's aeroplane. Wild gives a detailed account of the preparations for a test flight in the aeroplane at the Cheltenham race course in Adelaide: after the first test flight, the pilot, Watkins, is nearly blinded by leaking petrol -- 'he had at least a gallon squirted over him' -- and damages the plane. Wild, Watkins and Francis Bickerton spend a day on repairs, but more serious problems develop on the next morning's flight, this time with Wild on board: 'we side slipped about fifty feet, then Watkins got her righted but a few seconds later the same wing dipped again ... & we struck earth at about seventy miles an hour'. Watkins and Wild are quickly prised out from under the plane ('There was a parson amongst the crowd; he got some good matter for his next sermon'), and taken to hospital, Watkins with a cracked breast-bone, Wild with severe bruising: 'for two days I could not lift my hands high enough to wash my face. I had some of the finest rain-bow colouring spread over my anatomy'. As for the aeroplane itself, 'the machine was badly mangled, & Mawson has decided to have only the engine body & tail repaired & taken south for sledge hauling, leaving the wings behind'. Wild is now in Melbourne arranging a berth for the Aurora, and reports that 'Mawson has not got on so well financially as he would have liked'.
The recipient is apparently Alfred Reid, who had been the business manager of Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition of 1907-1909. Mawson's Australasian expedition had bought its Vickers REP aeroplane for £900. The body of the plane was equipped with sledge runners, and used at Cape Denison for pulling loads of up to 800 lb at up to 20 mph. The engine was unreliable in the extreme cold, and eventually seized up. Given the expedition's base in the 'windiest place on earth', it is questionable whether the aeroplane would ever have been able to fly there. Wild himself was placed in charge of the Western Party of the expedition in Queen Mary Land.