Swiss Alps to Antarctic Glaciers: The Journals of Dr Xavier Mertz

Authors: Xavier Mertz / Anna Lucas (2015)

Language: English with German references

Soft cover, illustrated.  xiv + 206 pages

ISBN 978-0-9925623-1-1

Published by Fineline Studios (Melbourne) with the Swiss Club of Victoria

Available from: Top of the World Books (USA); Astrolabe Booksellers (TAS); South Australian Museum bookshop; and Readings (Australia).


Reviewed in Polar Record (Cambridge, UK); Limbus: Australian Yearbook of German Literary and Cultural Studies (Monash University); Friends of Mawson Newsletter (South Australian Museum); and Edelweiss (Swiss Club of Victoria).


Xavier Mertz (1882–1913) was the first Swiss to live and work in Antarctica. Educated with a doctorate in business law, he was a keen mountaineer and skier. Shortly after the Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton gave a public talk in Basel, Switzerland, Mertz joined Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (1911–1913). His first journal records his experiences travelling from London to Antarctica—via Cardiff, Cape Town, Hobart and Macquarie Island—then the year spent in a small hut with seventeen other men at Cape Denison in Antarctica, where he assisted scientists with their work and trained the sledge dogs. His second journal describes the exploratory sledging journey he undertook with Mawson and Ninnis. Only Mawson survived the journey, but he carried his companion’s sledging journal back to the hut, and it was eventually returned to the Mertz family in Basel.


With a comprehensive introduction and additional explanatory chapters, this annotated version of the journals offers insights into the world of Mertz. His original journals, written in German, have disappeared and only typed, but imperfect, transcripts remain. The concluding chapters in the book trace the passage of his journals from Antarctica to archives, their evolution, and the process of interpreting the surviving transcripts. 


“This is a unique perspective from the only European voice in the expedition.”
—Mark Pharaoh, Mawson Centre, South Australian Museum.


“The Mertz journals are the legacy of the first Swiss in Antarctica. A welcome addition to polar literature.”
—Marcel Stutz, Ambassador of Switzerland to Australia.


“This translation of Mertz’s journals makes for fascinating reading, marked throughout by Mertz’s humour and keen observations. Equally interesting, in its own way, is the book’s account of previously little-known occurrences affecting Mertz’s journals and correspondence … This detailed explanation is a fitting conclusion to an effort that seemingly required the skills of a detective as much as of a scholar in order for the project to come to fruition.”
—Beau Riffenburgh, polar historian, in Polar Record.

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