History of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia/Editing/Biographies

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Jeffryes during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition

Sidney Jeffryes (born in Queensland in 1884), was an early Australian wireless telegraphy operator. Trained by Australasian Wireless Co., Ltd., he was initially employed on coastal shipping and established at least one record for distance transmission. But he is best known for his service as the wireless officer at Cape Denison during the second year (February 1913 − December 1913) of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition under the command of explorer Douglas Mawson. His service ended in September 1913, two months prior to the relief of the shore party, when Jeffryes developed symptoms of paranoia and had to be relieved of his duties.[1]

Early life and family

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Jeffryes was born in Queensland in 1884, second son of Henry Jeffryes and Helena (sometimes Ellen) Jeffryes née White. His father was a postmaster and telegraphist with the Queensland Post and Telegraph and following federation with the Postmaster-General's Department. Sidney's given name is indexed as Sydney in the records of the Queensland Registrar of BMD, but this may simply be a transcription error. His father Henry was a child of Henry Jeffryes and Sarah Jeffryes née Bland. After a long career with the Post Office, his father passed in 1910. His mother Helena was born in Essex, England ca 1853 and her father was William White. She died in 1932. There were at least seven children of the marriage:

  • Louisa Ellen. Married Thomas Maxwell Gibb in 1898.
  • Ivy Llalah (likely Lalla), born 1875. Married Walter Henry Donely in 1894.
  • Ida Dorothea Maud, born 1879. Married Robert George Denny in 1904.
  • Hulbert Trevannion, born 1881, died 1946. Teacher Gundiah (1910s).[2] Married Isabel Jeffryes née King (died 1946) in 1906.
  • Norma Fanny, born 1882.
  • Sidney (alt Sydney) Harry, born 1884.
  • Francis ("Frank') Edwin, born 1886. Died young 1902 at Allora.
  • Constance ("Connie") Eva, born 1888. Died 1949. Achieved unwanted prominence in an inheritance dispute.[3]

The family grew up in Allora. His father Henry spent almost 20 years in the district from 1889. He was initially assistant in charge of the local post office, but in September 1899 was appointed officer in charge.[4] The death due to pneumonia of Sidney's younger brother Frank in July 1902 was a major tragedy for the family.[5] A marble mural tablet to Frank's life was unveiled at the Allora State School in December 1902.[6] Sidney's father was transferred to the Emerald Post Office in April 1909, after nearly 20 years at Allora. The community held a public farewell for Henry at the Allora Town Hall and he was presented with a purse of sovereigns.[7] By the time of the transfer to Emerald, Henry's family were mostly grown and his own health was failing. Only his wife relocated with him, and when he passed in 1910, there was little connection with Emerald and she relocated to the larger provincial centre of Toowoomba where she passed in 1932.

Telegraphy was a major part of the activities of any rural post office and there can be no doubt that Sidney learned morse code and telegraphy with his father. The Postmaster-General's department discouraged any staff experiments in wireless after federation. But from 1897, news of Marconi's succession of wireless telegraphy achievements spanning greater and greater distances, filled the newspapers of the day. At this time many private experimenters were operating without licences and in a remote location such as Allora, the temptations to experiment would have been strong.


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The Commonwealth of Australia Gazette records Jeffryes as being employed on a temporary basis from 26 March 1909 as a Telegraphist at Sydney for a period of three months.[8] This appointment was renewed again June 1909 [9], September 1909[10], and finally December 1909.[11] But mere telegraphy did not offer the excitement or pecuniary rewards of a wireless operator of the day and his career progressed.

Wireless training

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In the late 1800s, fitting of wireless equipment on the great steamships carrying mail between Great Britain and Australia was becoming commonplace and following Australia's belated establishment of a network of coastal stations from 1910, many of the larger coastal vessels around Australia were also fitted out. The Australasian Wireless Co., Ltd. won the contracts with the Australian Government to establish a network of coastal wireless stations around Australia using Telefunken transmitters and receivers. This gave the firm a strong marketing edge in the supply of equipment to local shipping to utilise the coastal station network. Frequently the sale package also included provision of skilled personnel to operate and maintain the equipment. While the Marconi Telefunken College of Telegraphy as a formal training facility had not yet been established, the company did undertake internal training of potential operators. Jeffryes is reported as having qualified as a wireless operator with Australasian Wireless Co., Ltd.

Coastal shipping

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In October 1911, Jeffryes had a small taste of fame which was reported in the Sydney Sun: "Record by the Kyarra. Mr. S. H. Jeffryes, wireless operator on the A.U.S.N. Co.'s Kyarra, which was fitted up by the Australasian Wireless Co., Ltd., has put up a record for overland wireless messages between ships. His report says:— "Coming into Adelaide on the 18th Instant, distant from Adelaide 140 miles, I picked up the Cooma. This exceeds the records of that of the Cooma and Riverlna four months ago from Townsville to the Bight by a small margin of about 40 miles. The conditions were absolutely normal on the night, a fact which could hardly be said of the occasion four months ago, which was a night on which every operator got good distances, myself and the Levuka getting 2100 miles. It is claimed by the Cooma and Riverina that the distance was 2300 miles. This is not so, as direct it is not more than 1500 miles, but even this is equivalent to almost twice as much by sea. I thus claim to have established an Australasian record for transmission and reception over land, beating the previous one by 40 miles."[12]

It was common in this era for ship wireless officers to move frequently between ships. At the time of Jeffryes' appointment to the AAE he was reported as having been most recently on the SS Westralia.[13]

Antarctic preparations

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The AAE expedition was the first Antarctic expedition in history, and the only one during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, to maintain radio contact with its country of origin. Only a high power facility of comparable capacity to those recently established at Sydney (VIS) and Perth (VIP) would have been capable of direct communication between Hobart and Cape Denison and this would have been prohibitively expensive and resource hungry for the expedition. It was decided to establish an intermediate station at Macquarie Island, and by halving the maximum distance for each signal to traverse, it was expected that the 2kW Telefunken transmitters of the Australasian Wireless Co., Ltd. would enable reliable communication.

Jeffryes had a keen interest in both Antarctica and wireless telegraphy and when the first call for applications to join the AAE was made, he sought an appointment as wireless operator. But at that time his length of experience as a telegraphist and wireless telegraphist was not great and he was not successful.[14] Douglas Mawson appointed Walter Henry Hannam who was associated with the prominent patriot George Augustine Taylor and had himself been involved with the establishment of the Wireless Institute of Australia.

A series of tragedies and mishaps had led to the Cape Denison shore base on Antarctica being kept open for a second winter, March–December 1913. But there had been some tension between Mawson and Hannam and in January 1913, Hannam elected to return home after his year at Macquarie Island and Cape Denison. The intermediate station that he set up at Wireless Hill on Macquarie Island was fully functional and providing sterling service exchanging messages with the Hobart coastal station VIH. But there had been ongoing issues with both transmission and reception at Cape Denison, and only occasional messages were got out. This failure prevented the expedition fulfilling the terms of its contract with Australian and London Press in providing timely updates on the activities and status of the expedition. The replacement wireless officer would bring with him improved wireless telegraphy receivers (sensitivity of the crucial detectors was taking great strides at the time) which it was expected would make the Cape Denison station fully effective.

An appeal was made for a wireless operator to serve during the second winter of the AAE, and now Jeffryes was given the appointment.[15]

In Antarctica

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Jeffryes arrived at the Cape Denison shore base in February 1913 as the base was enduring a near-nightmare situation. The expedition's leader and commander, Douglas Mawson, stumbled into the base, the sole survivor of a sled dog probe eastward along the previously unknown interior coastline of the Australian Antarctic Territory. As the new wireless operator, Jeffryes was able to start the relay of communications that would inform Australia of the expedition leader's survival. However, within days of Mawson's arrival, the Antarctic winter began.[1]

Mawson's expedition hut was located close to what was then the location of the South Magnetic Pole, and continued radio interference and static associated with polar conditions threatened the base's minimal ability to contact Macquarie Island.[1] The expedition leader at first admired Jeffryes's assiduity with earphones and Morse-code key, but grew increasingly guarded in his praise. In Mawson's words, Jeffryes "applied himself to work with enthusiasm and perhaps an over-conscientious spirit."[16] Climate conditions outside the hut made winter outdoor exercise impossible, leading to cabin fever. All the expeditioners would have been familiar with tales of Antarctic winter madness and particularly the problems of the Belgian Antarctic Expedition. Conditions at Cape Denison were clearly worse than those on the Belgica due to the Katabatic wind which because of the unique geography is at its upper extreme in the vicinity.

In July 1913, as Antarctica neared midwinter, wireless operator Jeffryes began to present symptoms of paranoia to his fellow shore-party winter explorers, none of whom knew how to receive or transmit messages in Morse code.[17] Expedition leader Mawson began to encourage another expedition member, airman Frank Bickerton, to learn Morse code as quickly as possible.[1][17] Jeffryes's condition waxed and waned; for some weeks his comrades believed he was recovering, but in September of the same year the radioman experienced a psychotic break and began transmitting a message, through Macquarie Island, to Australia. Declaring himself to be the only sane man on the expedition, Jeffryes accused all of his comrades of having joined a criminal conspiracy to murder him. Mawson thereupon relieved Jeffryes of his duties.[1][17]

Return home

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In December 1913, the expedition's vessel Aurora relieved the troubled Antarctic shore party.

Jeffryes was excluded from the welcoming celebrations in Adelaide due to his medical status[18]. Yet he was paid off two days after arrival at Adelaide.[19] Mawson stated subsequently that he believed that Jeffryes had returned to full health: "Later on Jeffreys improved, and on the arrival of the ship he became quite normal, and in that condition he was landed at Adelaide we believing that he would never again have any further trouble of the kind. On the return voyage Dr. Maclean occupied the same cabin with him, and kept him closely under observation. Dr. Maclean reported to me that Jeffreys was quite well and no thought ever entered our mind that he would not travel straight home without risk. In fact his condition was so good that I decided not to make any mention of the matter to his people.[20]

In March 1914 it was realised that Jeffryes had not returned to the family home in Toowoomba and was missing. Six days later he was found near Stawell, exhausted and starved, having lived on roots and grubs, and drinking water from stagnant pools. He was arrested, clearly in a psychotic break and presented at the Stawell Court. His poignant plea from the dock was "Let me go back and die, where I have hidden my trunk, in the silence of the ranges."[21] The Court committed Jeffryes to the Ararat Asylum.[22]

His mental condition was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia while he was confined to the Aradale Mental Hospital in Ararat, Victoria.[1][23] Letters from the health center, written to Mawson in 1915, testify to his challenges.[24] Little is known of his later life.

Legacy and late life

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Jeffryes' meticulous records of wireless reception quality during the second year of the Australasian Antarctic Expedition were correlated by himself, and by other expeditioners, with other observations of variables such as magnetic readings, auroral intensity, and St Elmo's Fire. These identified, perhaps for the first time, the impacts of Antarctic conditions upon low frequency radio wave propagation.

The expedition's head and designated spokesman, Douglas Mawson, had little to say in his published histories about Jeffryes' active service in Antarctica. For almost 100 years, the unfortunate wireless operator's name was suppressed from most Antarctic records. But in August 2010, the Australian Antarctic Division honored Jeffryes for his pioneering winter service by naming a previously unnamed glacier after him. The Jeffryes Glacier is located at 67°4' South, 143°59' East, in the Australian Antarctic Territory. It should not be confused with the Jeffries Glacier.[16]

In December 2013, the first opera to be based on Mawson's 1911–14 expedition to Antarctica, The Call of Aurora (by Tasmanian composer Joe Bugden) was performed at The Peacock Theatre in Hobart. A chamber opera, The Call of Aurora investigates the relationship between Douglas Mawson and his wireless operator, Sidney Jeffryes.


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  1. a b c d e f "Home of the Blizzard - The people: Sidney Jeffryes". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
  2. "MILK AND CREAM TESTING EXAMINATIONS.". The Queenslander (Queensland, Australia) (2417): p. 32. 20 July 1912. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21915911. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  3. "LEFT HIS WIDOW £3 A WEEK TESTATOR". Truth (Queensland, Australia) (1573): p. 19. 18 May 1930. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article206153181. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  4. "Official Notifications.". The Telegraph (Queensland, Australia) (8,366): p. 2. 11 September 1899. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173091791. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  5. "ALLORA.". Darling Downs Gazette (Queensland, Australia) XLIV, (10,559): p. 3. 4 July 1902. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article184765401. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  6. "THE MAIZE CROP.". The Brisbane Courier (Queensland, Australia) LIX, (14,031): p. 4. 1 January 1903. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19234883. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  7. "WARWICK AND DISTRICT.". The Brisbane Courier (Queensland, Australia) LXV, (15,990): p. 2. 12 April 1909. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19572377. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  8. "Government Gazette Appointments and Employment". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (Australia) (23): p. 951. 17 April 1909. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232353693. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  9. "Government Gazette Appointments and Employment". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (Australia) (38): p. 1304. 17 July 1909. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232363963. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  10. "Government Gazette Appointments and Employment". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (Australia) (52): p. 1557. 2 October 1909. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232364473. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  11. "Government Gazette Appointments and Employment". Commonwealth of Australia Gazette (Australia) (68): p. 1874. 31 December 1909. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article232365235. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  12. "RECORD BY THE KYARRA.". The Sun (New South Wales, Australia) (411): p. 10 (LATEST EDITION). 23 October 1911. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article221530525. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  13. "MAWSON'S ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION.". The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia) XCVII, (13,335): p. 4. 24 December 1912. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10268476. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  14. "DR. MAWSON'S STATEMENT.". Darling Downs Gazette (Queensland, Australia) LVI, (681): p. 5. 16 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196888469. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  15. "MAWSON'S ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION.". The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia) XCVII, (13,335): p. 4. 24 December 1912. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10268476. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  16. a b "Australian Antarctic glaciers named". Australian Antarctic Division. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
  17. a b c "Home of the Blizzard - Cape Denison: Radio waves". Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Retrieved 2014-01-04.
  18. ""THE SOLITUDE OF THE ICE."". The Daily Telegraph (New South Wales, Australia) (10860): p. 13. 14 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239137904. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  19. ""THE SOLITUDE OF THE ICE."". The Daily Telegraph (New South Wales, Australia) (10860): p. 13. 14 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239137904. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  20. "DR. MAWSON'S STATEMENT.". Darling Downs Gazette (Queensland, Australia) LVI, (681): p. 5. 16 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article196888469. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  21. ""THE SOLITUDE OF THE ICE."". The Daily Telegraph (New South Wales, Australia) (10860): p. 13. 14 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239137904. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  22. ""THE SOLITUDE OF THE ICE."". The Daily Telegraph (New South Wales, Australia) (10860): p. 13. 14 March 1914. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239137904. Retrieved 14 April 2018. 
  23. "Manuscripts, oral history and pictures: Miss Eckford". State Library of New South Wales. Retrieved 2011-03-12.
  24. Roberts, David (2013). Alone on the Ice: The Greatest Survival Story in the History of Exploration. New York City: W.W. Norton & Company. p. 293.

Further reading

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  • Australian Antarctic Division. Home of the Blizzard, Sidney Jeffryes (Webpage) Online
  • Australian Antarctic Division. Home of the Blizzard, Radio Waves (Webpage) Online
  • Australian Antarctic Data Centre. Gazetteer, Jeffryes Glacier (Webpage) Online
  • Ayres, Philip. Mawson: a life (1st ed. Melbourne, 1999) Trove NLA Google Books
  • Carty, Bruce. Australian Radio History (4th ed. Sydney, 2013) [1]
  • Cormick, Craig. In Bed with Douglas Mawson: Travels Around Antarctica (New Holland Publishers, 2011) TroveGoogle Books
  • Curnow, Geoffrey Ross. The history of the development of wireless telegraphy and broadcasting in Australia to 1942, with especial reference to the Australian Broadcasting Commission: a political and administrative study. online
  • Friends of Mawson. Friends of Mawson. (Website) Online (excellent reading list and newsletter archive)
  • Given, Donald Jock. Transit of Empires: Ernest Fisk and the World Wide Wireless. (Melbourne, 2007) [2]
  • Griffiths, Tom. Slicing the silence : voyaging to Antarctica (UNSW Press, Sydney, 2007) Trove NLA
  • Hadlow, Martin Lindsay. Wireless and Empire ambition: wireless telegraphy/telephony and radio broadcasting in the British Solomon Islands Protectorate, South-West Pacific (1914-1947): political, social and developmental perspectives. (Martin Hadlow, Brisbane, 2016) [3] [4]
  • Jeffryes, Sidney. Letter to Miss Eckford (Ararat, 1914) [5]
  • Leane, Elizabeth & Maddison, Ben. Remembering Sidney Jeffryes and the darker side of our tales of Antarctic heroism [6]
  • Leane, Elizabeth & Norris, Kimberley. Bringing Psychology to the Antarctic Archives: The 'Case' of Sidney Jeffryes (To be published) [7]
  • Maddison, Ben. Class and colonialism in antarctic exploration, 1750-1920 (Pickering & Chatto, London, 2014) Trove NLA
  • Mawson, Douglas. The home of the blizzard : an Australian hero's classic tale of Antarctic discovery and adventure (Unabridged, two volumes), (W. Heinemann, London, 1915 ) Trove NLA
  • Mawson, Douglas. The home of the blizzard : an Australian hero's classic tale of Antarctic discovery and adventure (Abridged, one volume) (Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 2010) Trove NLA
  • Mawson, Douglas. The home of the blizzard : an Australian hero's classic tale of Antarctic discovery and adventure (Electronic edition) Online (Includes full PDF)
  • McLean, Archibald Lang. Dr Archibald Lang McLean diaries, 2 December 1911-26 February 1914 (McLean, Cape Denison, 1911) [8]
  • McLean, Archibald Lang. The Adelie Blizzard (Friends of the State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, 2010) [9]
  • Riffenburgh, Beau. Racing With Death: Douglas Mawson - Antarctic Explorer (Bloomsbury, London, 2008) Trove NLA Google Books
  • Roberts, Davis. Alone on the ice: The greatest survival story in the history of exploration. (W. W. Norton, New York, 2014) Trove Google Books
  • Ross, John F. Radio Broadcasting Technology, 75 Years of Development in Australia 1923–1998 (J. F. Ross, 1998) [10]
  • Solomon, Shelby. Noble Explorers Suffering from Polar Madness (Webpage, 2010) Online
  • Wireless Institute of Australia (editor Wolfenden, Peter). Wireless Men & Women at War (Wireless Institute of Australia, Melbourne, 2017) [11]