Explorer Alister Forbes Mackay’s medals on sale

Dr Alister Forbes Mackay. Picture: contributed
Dr Alister Forbes Mackay. Picture: contributed
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THE medals awarded to a hero doctor who served with Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and was one of the first three men to reach the South Magnetic Pole are being sold at auction.

Dr Alister Forbes Mackay, of the Royal Navy, joined Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition of 1907-9 as a surgeon.

Dr Alister Forbes Mackay's medals. Picture: contributed

Dr Alister Forbes Mackay's medals. Picture: contributed

He received the Polar Medal for his actions, which will go under the hammer at Bonhams in London along with his medals from the Boer War. The group is expected to fetch 
£3-5000 at the sale on October 16.

Dr Mackay was born in 1878, and was educated in Edinburgh before he studied biology under Professors Geddes and D’Arcy Thompson at Dundee. He later served in the Boer War as a trooper with the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV), and later with Baden Powell’s police. The Shackleton expedition arrived in Antarctica on the ship Nimrod at Cape Royds in February 1908, and set up camp in a small expedition hut that would house the 15-man party through the winter.

In March 1908, along with Douglas Mawson and Professor Edgeworth David, Dr Mackay made up the party who undertook the first ascent of Mount Erebus. The following spring when Shackleton set off to attempt to reach the South Pole, he despatched Mackay, Mawson, and David northward to reach the South Magnetic Pole, which lay approximately 650km north-north-west of Ross Island.

The trek commenced on October 5, 1908, with the men hauling their own sleds and relaying the loads which meant that every kilometre gained by the sledges involved them travelling 3km by foot.

A spokesman for Bonhams said: “For ten weeks the men followed the coast north, supplementing their stores with a diet of seals and penguins. They then crossed the Drygalski Ice Tongue and turned inland. They still faced a 700km return journey, and established a depot to enable them to transfer their load to one overladen sled and to remove the need to relay. “On January 16, 1909 they arrived at the South Magnetic Pole, took possession of the region for the British Crown, and Mackay suggested three cheers for the King.”

Mackay was also the ship’s doctor on the ill-fated Karluk expedition in 1913, led by Vilhjalmur Stefansson to explore the regions west of the Parry Archipelago for the Canadian government. After the Karluk, captained by Robert Bartlett, was stranded, crushed, and sunk by pack ice, Mackay and three other crew members died of exposure in 1914 while struggling across the Arctic ice.