The Papers of Sir George Hubert Wilkins

Sir George Hubert Wilkins achieved distinction for his work in the Arctic and Antarctic Regions. Among his most notable achievements are the following: a pioneer in aeronautical photography and motion picture coverage of war; the navigator of his Lockheed Vega on its historic flight over the Arctic Circle in April 1928; passenger aboard the Graf Zeppelin on its around the world flight in 1929; the commander of the submarine Nautilus on its trip to the Arctic Circle in 1931; second-in-command of four Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic Expeditions in the 1930s; passenger aboard the airship Hindenburg on its maiden voyage to the United States in 1936; the commander of the Alaskan-Canadian section of the contingent searching for lost Soviet aviators in 1937-1938; and consultant to the United States Military on matters of hot and cold weather clothing and survival techniques, submarine travel in the polar regions, Arctic defense systems, and issues related to geography and geology.

Sir George Hubert Wilkins was born at Mt. Bryan East, South Australia, on October 31, 1888. He studied engineering at the Adelaide School of Mines in Australia. Wilkins soon became interested in photography and cinemagraphics and devoted much time to this pastime, including working for a year in Sydney, Australia in a tent cinema operation. In 1908, Wilkins was hired by the Gaumont Company of London as a cinematographer and by the London Daily Chronicle as a reporter. In 1910, he learned to fly with the help of Claude Grahame-White, an English flyer and a contemporary of the Wright brothers. In 1912, the Gaumont Company sent Wilkins to Constantinople to photograph and shoot movies of the Balkan War.

From early on, Sir Hubert Wilkins was interested in polar exploration, both by airplane and submarine, and the establishment of weather stations in the polar regions. In 1913, he got his first assignment to a polar expedition when Vilhjalmur Stefansson hired him as a photographer for an expedition to the Arctic. From 1913-1916, Wilkins traveled with Stefansson and eventually became second-in-command of the expedition.

In 1917, during World War I, Wilkins enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps and was appointed commander of the photograph section of the Australian Forces in France. In 1919, after the war, he was the navigator on the Blackburn Kangaroo during the England to Australia Air Race.

Wilkins returned to polar exploration in 1919 by making his first trip to the Antarctic. From 1919-1920, he was second-in- command of the British Imperial Antarctic Expedition. From 1921-1922, Wilkins was chief of the scientific staff and naturalist for the Sir Ernest Shackleton Quest Antarctic Expedition.

In 1922, the Quakers hired Wilkins to travel to Russia and Eastern Europe to report on the works of the Society of Friends' Emergency and War Victims' Relief Committee. 

From 1923-1925 the British Museum of Natural History sponsored the Wilkins-Australia and Islands Expedition. Wilkins examined vegetation and animal life, collected specimens for the museum, and lived for a time with Australian aborigines.

From 1926-1928, Wilkins was commander of the Wilkins-Detroit Arctic Expeditions sponsored by the Detroit Aviation Society and the Detroit News. It was during these expeditions that Wilkins and Ben Eielson made their historic first Trans-Arctic airplane flight from Point Barrow, Alaska to Spitzbergen. This event occurred in April of 1928. For his accomplishment, Wilkins was knighted by King George V of England.

Wlkins returned to Antarctica during the period 1928-1930 with financial support from William Randolph Hearst. Wilkins and pilot Ben Eielson made their historic first airplane flight over the Antarctic in 1928. During a break in 1929, Wilkins was a passenger aboard the Graf Zeppelin during its around the world trip. Wilkins reported on technical aspects of the zeppelin's flight.

On August 30, 1929, after completing the zeppelin flight, Wilkins married Suzanne Bennett, an Australian actress. They had met in New York during a reception honoring Wilkins and Eielson after their flight over the Arctic Sea. The couple had no children during their twenty nine years of marriage.

In 1931, Sir Hubert Wilkins commanded the Nautilus submarine expedition to the Arctic.This was the first submarine to travel under the Arctic pack ice. During the 1930s, he traveled to the Antarctic four times as second-in-command of the Lincoln Ellsworth Antarctic Flight Expeditions. In 1937, Wilkins was in charge of the Alaskan-Canadian search section which was looking for the lost Soviet Polar Expedition which was commanded by Sigimund Levanevsky. 

In 1940-1941, Wilkins was sent to Europe and the Far East on special missions for theUnited States government. He flew to Europe to discuss U.S. contracts for supplying plane parts. In the Far East, he visited Japan, China, Burma, and Thailand on an economic fact-finding mission. In 1942, the United States Army hired Wilkins as a consultant. Wilkins worked primarily for the Army's Quartermaster Corps in the areas of hot and cold weather clothing and survival techniques. He also assisted other military departments in geographic and geological research, aviation research, and submersible craft research. Wilkins was a consultant to the United States Military until 1958.

From the 1920's until his death, Wilkins traveled throughout the United States and other nations lecturing about polar exploration. During his lifetime he wrote several works,including Undiscovered Australia, Flying the Arctic, Under the North Pole, and Our Search for the Lost Soviet Aviators. Wilkins was affiliated with organizations such as the Explorers Club, The Circumnavigators Club, and the Arctic Institute of North America. Wilkins died on December 1, 1958 at the age of seventy.

On March 17, 1959, the nuclear submarine USS Skate surfaced at the North Pole and the crew conducted a ceremony in which Sir George Hubert Wilkins' ashes were scattered on the Arctic Ice.