On 26 September, 1966, Andrew Keith Jack, physicist of the Aurora, industrial chemist, died.
Andrew Keith Jack (known as Keith Jack) was born on 9 September, 1885, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Keith Jack was fair-haired and had blue eyes. His father was a successful Melbourne stationer. Jack was educated at Brighton Grammar, and worked for an insurance company before attending Melbourne University on a chemistry scholarship. He was awarded both his degrees, bachelors and masters, with first-class honours. He was teaching at the Dookie Agricultural College and pursuing research when he heard of Shackleton’s expedition. He was highly regarded by his university professors and colleagues. One wrote:
He has excellent natural abilities, writes a good hand, and is of unimpeachable personal character in every respect.
Jack was applying to be part of the Ross Sea Party of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, aboard the Aurora. Although his applications to the expedition were initially rejected, due to concerns about his childhood health, his persistence impressed Commander Aeneas Mackintosh and Chief Scientist Alexander Stevens and Jack was hired.
Throughout the expedition, Jack kept a diary that is a valuable source for study of the man himself and of the expedition. Several pages of this are available at the link below.
Jack was physicist to the expedition and was part of the shore party, along with nine others, that was stranded on the Antarctic continent when the Aurora was torn form its moorings and carried by the ice out to the Ross Sea. Despite being marooned on the continent, Jack got down to business and engaged himself in his scientific observations and work. Mackintosh regarded the three Australians (Richard Walter Richards, Irvine Owen Gaze and Jack) as a ‘splendid asset’ and said of them that ‘once they start on anything they do not leave it until it is completed’. The Antarctic was a wonderland for the young Jack, early career physicist—it was a part of the world not already full of scientists of the various disciplines, something new to be studied and understood.
Throughout the expedition, the ten men of the shore party formed groups amongst themselves. As Tyler-Lewis wrote:
In the absence of charismatic leadership from Mackintosh, the men found purpose and solidarity in like-minded companions. Former schoolmates Jack and Gaze were inseparable friends and Richards befriended fellow physicist Jack.
Jack was critical of Mackintosh’s authority and decisions from rather early on. He wrote that
One cannot help asking oneself if Mackintosh is a very capable leader & if Shackleton’s selection was a very wise one.
However, these thoughts were initially kept to himself in his diary, but did later come out into the open resulting in arguments with Aeneas Mackintosh, John Lachlan Cope and Harry Ernest Wild.
During the sledging mission to lay the supply depots for the trans-continental party of the Endurance, Jack and Richards suffered from snowblindness as they tried to distinguish between the features of crevasses and fissures in the constant glare from the sun. Throughout his time in Antarctica, Jack took many stunning photographs which were subsequently made into glass slides for use in a magic lantern. Although it meant deprivation and being stranded for quite a long time, Jack never regretted his decision to volunteer for the expedition to Antarctica. He kept the poetry that he wrote while on the continent, inspired as it was by ‘the beauty untold’.
The eventually relief of the stranded party came on 10 January, 1917. From Shackleton’s South!:
Captain Davis brought the Aurora alongside the ice edge off Cape Royds on the morning of January 10, and I went ashore with a party to look for some record in the hut erected there by my Expedition in 1907. I found a letter stating that the Ross Sea party was housed at Cape Evans, and was on my way back to the ship when six men, with dogs and sledge, were sighted coming from the direction of Cape Evans. At 1 p.m. this party arrived on board, and we learned that of the ten members of the Expedition left behind when the Aurora broke away on May 6, 1915, seven had survived, namely, A. Stevens, E. Joyce, H. E. Wild, J. L. Cope, R. W. Richards, A. K. Jack, I. O. Gaze. These seven men were all well, though they showed traces of the ordeal through which they had passed. They told us of the deaths of Mackintosh, Spencer-Smith, and Hayward, and of their own anxious wait for relief.
Jack wrote in his diary that his feelings at the rescue were powerful and hard to describe.
It was not a time for words, our hearts were too full for this & I am not ashamed to say that tears of joy forced their way into my eyes in spite of myself.
Captain John King Davis, commander of the Aurora and the rescue party, was shocked at the appearance and state of the men of the stranded Ross Sea party.
They were just about the wildest-looking gang of men that I have ever seen in my life…their great physical and mental privations went deeper than their appearance. Their speech was jerky, semi-hysterical and at times almost unintelligible, their eyes had a strained and harassed look.
For his participation in the expedition, Jack was awarded the Silver Polar Medal, with two clasps.
When he returned from the expedition, his chemistry expertise was in high demand and he worked in the Government Cordite Factory for the years 1917-1920, taking charge of the Guncotton and Nitric Acid section in Maribyrnong, Victoria. His personal journal kept during the expedition was contractually the property of Shackleton. Jack, however, managed to edit his writings a little before sending it off to the Boss. Following World War I, Jack devoted himself to his family as well as his career. During the years of World War II, he rose to senior assistant manager at Maribyrnong.
Jack held many posts during the 1940s: Australian Munitions Representative to the United Kingdom,1944-1946; Chief Safety Officer and Secretary to the Operational Safety Committee and Explosives Committee in the Ministry of Munitions, 1946-1947; Chief Safety Officer and Secretary to the Operational Safety Committee, Department of Supply and Development, 1947-1950. He retired in 1950.
Andrew Keith Jack died on 26 September, 1966.
Shackleton, Sir E. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914–1917. London, 1919.
Tyler-Lewis, K. The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party. London, 2006.
Wikipedia entry on Andrew Keith Jack
State Library Victoria YouTube video with Digital access librarian Andrew McConville, discussing Keith Jack collection of glass lantern slides
Culture Victoria, Andrew Keith Jack diary, Jun 2, 1915, pp. 13-16
Museum Victoria, item ST 31403, thermometers, boxed, Cary, London. Owned by Andrew Keith Jack and used on Antarctic expedition
Culture Victoria, Andrew Keith Jack’s clothing, equipment, and mementos used on expedition
Culture Victoria, Brief Biography of Andrew Keith Jack
Encyclopedia of Australian Science, ‘Jack, Andrew Keith (1885 – 1966)’
Museum Victoria, Andrew Keith Jack’s aneroid barometer from Antarctic expedition
Australian National Maritime Museum, Ross Sea Party Rescued