On May  7 1927 a strange story appeared in the Newcastle Sun. It said that  a Mr George Bressington  had been walking along a beach at Tuggerah, on the NSW Central Coast, when he  unearthed a half buried wine bottle.  On one side  there was an etching of  a penguin and a picture of the Antarctic ship Aurora. On the other side a list of names appeared under the notation;




Those names were; Frank Wild, A.L. Kennedy, S. Evan Jones. C. Arch Hedley, Chas. T. Harrison. George Dovers, A.L. Watson, and Merton H. Moyes.

Here is a little background to the story. When Sir Douglas Mawson’s ship Aurora left  England in 1911 for the Antarctic  they were presented with three bottles of Madeira by Mr J. Y. Buchanan. The bottles were very special, They had been aboard the survey ship H.M.S. Challenger during a long journey in the 1870s which included the Southern Ocean. The Challenger’s crew had collected many bottles of wine from different regions on the voyage. Buchanan had been on board, and now proposed a romantic ceremony. Tbe wine was to be drunk by Mawson’s expedition at the traditional Antarctic festival – Midwinter. The empty bottles would then be sent back to him in London.

Frank Wild, had led a group of eight men  to the Western Base (The Shackelton Ice Shelf)  and the Madeira was duly drunk at their midwinter dinner.


We have an excellent account of the occasion from the diary of A, D, Watson;

The only Tasmanian member of the expedition was biologist Charles Harrisson (1866-1914)


Harrisson  also recorded  the dinner, including a detailed menu;

Excellent dinner. Soup, cheese, canapes, roast sirloin of seal baked with dripping over it, beautifully tender and really very nice. Potatoes, peas, turnips, plum pudding with whiskey sauce. Raspberries and strawberries in jelly. Raisons, almonds, fig, cheese straws etc.

He then noted that the last two toasts of the evening were drunk in Buchanan’s Madeira, adding ‘Afterwards Dr Jones had all our signatures scratched on the bottle with his diamond.‘  Harrison was a talented artist and he then decorated the bottle; ‘I did a penguin on one side and a ship on the other. The bottle is to be returned to Mr Buchanan.’

However the men were so impressed with Harrisson’s artwork that they were reluctant to relinquish it. As a compromise a second bottle was engraved with the men’s names. Presumably the decorated bottle was sent to Mr Buchanan in London as arranged,

Now as it turns out, the article about finding the engraved bottle on the beach at Tuggerah was completely fabricated. Where it originated I have no idea.

On man who read the account was Sir Douglas Mawson. Intrigued, he contacted George Bressington, and an entirely different story emerged.

Here is an extract from article published in Sydney’s Freeman’s Journal on June 2 1927.


Somebody who was classifying the contents of an Ultimo (Sydney) bottle yard eight years ago had his attention arrested by a dead marine [wine bottle] with  several names engraved on it. Thinking it might have some value as a curio  he handed the bottle to G.R. Bressington, of the New South Wales Bottle Co.; the latter put it away somewhere in his home, and  only quite recently, with the aid of some expert advice, elucidated its history.

Here is the only image I can find of the bottle with its engraving. There was no ship or penguin on the other side, so clearly it was the second of the pair etched at the midwinter dinner.


But how did it end up at Ultimo?

Well, here is one theory.  I suppose it could have been found during the repair work on the Aurora.

The ship was photographed in dry dock at Cockatoo Island.


The second possibility is that the bottle was discovered  during a major overhaul of the Aurora  in May 1917 at the Jubilee dry dock at Balmain, a suburb close to Ultimo.  We have confirmation of this due to a tragic accident.

Article on the accident aboard the Aurora at Balmain,

SOURCE – DAILY MAIL (Brisb.) May 18 1917


Jubilee dry dock at Balmain, where the Aurora was overhauled in 1917.


Mawson arranged with George Bressington that the bottle would be sent to the Mitchell Library to validate its authenticity and  a note at the library confirms this was done.  The bottle was then returned to Bressington.

In 1932 a member of the Mawson’s expedition, John Close, contacted Bressington who was now an alderman at Homebush council. Close was able to view the bottle in the  chambers and he decided that one of the signatories on the bottle, Morton Moyes, would be the best person to take possession of the historic item. He wrote to the Mitchell library telling them of the decision. Perhaps he thought the library could arrange the handover.

Morton Moyes aboard the Aurora in 1911

Morton Moyes aboard the Aurora.

But did this happen? Well unfortunately no-one knows. It was never seen or heard of again. George Bressington’s descendants say they don’t have the bottle. It is definitely not at the  Mitchell Library. Could it be held by a member of the Moyes family?

NOTE – Charles Harrisson went on to join the ship Endeavor in 1914. It’s mission was to resupply the weather station on Macquarie Island. Sadly, the ship went missing on the voyage back to Hobart. The Aurora participated in a widespread search, but there were no survivors and  no wreckage was ever found.





  1. Wonderful story. Thanks.

    • Pauline

      Thanks Simon, I’d love to know where the story about finding it on the beach came from!

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