One of Australia’s forgotten pioneers of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration will at last have a marked grave, 76 years after his death.
Sidney Harry Jeffryes, the relief wireless operator on Douglas Mawson’s Australasian Antarctic Expedition (AAE) of 1911-14, was buried in an unmarked grave at Ararat in 1942 after 28 years as a patient at the Ararat Mental Hospital.
A plinth for his grave with his name and details of his Antarctic adventure is being installed on Tuesday, October 16.
It has been made by the Mawson’s Huts Foundation, a not-for-profit charity established in 1997 to conserve the fragile wooden huts at Cape Denison, East Antarctica.
These buildings were used as the expedition’s main base and it was there that Jeffryes spent most of 1913.
He was the wireless operator onboard the ship Aurora that was to collect Mawson and his entire team in early 1913, but was forced to leave without Mawson when he failed to return on time.
Jeffryes volunteered to stay behind as the wireless operator with five other members of the AAE to search or wait for Mawson’s return.
But he suffered a mental breakdown because of the cold and isolation and had to be relieved of his duties by Mawson who was recuperating after barely surviving a 500km trek back to the huts after losing his two sledding companions.
Jeffryes was heard transmitting false messages in Morse code to the AAE’s base on Macquarie Island, which Mawson established in late 1911 after leaving Hobart to relay messages from his main base to Australia.
Jeffryes’ messages claimed his six companions were trying to kill him and he was the only sane person.
He eventually returned home in February, 1914 with Mawson and other members of the team.
After boarding a train to return to his home in Queensland, Jeffryes left the train at Stawell, stripped his clothing and wandered naked through the bush for 12 days living on moths and grubs.
Local residents reported him to police who admitted him to the Ararat mental hospital, where he remained in J Ward for the criminally insane until his death on October 16, 1942, aged 58.
Records show he was buried the following day. There is no record of Jeffryes ever being visited by any member of the AAE.
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