Belgrave Edward Sutton Ninnis (1877-1912), who served as a lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers and had also tried to join Scott’s expedition, had a fine pedigree when it came to exploration.
He was the son of British Arctic explorer Belgrave Ninnis (1837- 1922), Inspector Surgeon General of the Royal Navy and member of Captain Sir George Nares’ British Arctic Expedition of 1875-76.
After serving on Ernest Shackleton’s 1907 Nimrod Expedition to Antarctica, Douglas Mawson travelled to England in 1910 to raise interest and backing for an expedition concentrating on scientific purposes.
He bought the whaler Aurora and in London he loaded it with specialist equipment and 48 sledging dogs from Greenland. Ninnis joined the expedition in London as a minder of the dogs, and sailed from London to Sydney.
He was in the 36-man party that left Tasmania on December 2, 1911. He landed in Antarctica with the main party on January 8, 1912, and established the main base. The summer was spent building a hut at Cape Denison for the 18-man Adelie Land base party to winter in.
Ninnis was then part of a threeman sledging team with Mawson and fellow dog handler Xavier Mertz who travelled east on November 10 to survey King George V Land. However, after three weeks of good progress but increasingly tough conditions tragedy struck when crossing a glacier (now known as the Ninnis Glacier).
Ninnis fell into a snow-covered crevasse. He was thought to have been jogging beside a sled instead of on its runners and his body weight probably broke the lid. Six dogs, most of the party’s rations, the tent and other essential supplies also perished. Mertz and Mawson spotted one dead and one injured dog on a ledge but not Ninnis.
Mawson made a remarkable, gruelling journey back to base more than 300 miles away, much of it solo after Mertz also died.
Ninnis’ sword offered at C&T on November 17, estimated at £500-700, sold for £5600.
The Edward VII 1897 pattern infantry officer’s sword featured regulation 2ft 8in (82cm) blade supplied by E Green, London, etched with royal ciphers, scrolls and B.E.S.N. 3rd April 1908, with regulation plated guard, wire bound fish skin-covered grip, in a replated scabbard. It was catalogued as being in good condition.