John Béchervaise

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John Mayston Béchervaise OAM, MBE (11 May 1910 – 13 July 1998) was an Australian writer, photographer, artist, historian and explorer.[citation needed] He is especially notable for his work and achievements in Antarctica. Béchervaise was married to Lorna Fearn Wannan; the couple had one son and three daughters. His family had come from Jersey in the 19th century where there is still a Bechervaise Lane.

Béchervaise was educated in Melbourne. He joined Geelong College in 1935 in order to establish a program of outdoor activities for the boys. During the years of the Second World War he studied art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, but returned to Geelong College after the war.

In January 1949 he led a mountaineering expedition of the Geelong College Exploration Society to climb the hitherto unclimbed 1224 m Federation Peak in Tasmania. He also led the first party to land Tasmania's Rodondo Island in Bass Strait, 10 km off the coast of Victoria.

As well as contributing to the development of outdoor education in Victoria, he was for many years the assistant editor of the Australian magazine Walkabout.


In the 1950s Béchervaise joined the Australian National Antarctic Research Expeditions (ANARE). He served as field leader on Heard Island in 1953, leading an unsuccessful expedition to climb the 2745 m Mawson Peak of the Big Ben massif, the highest peak on Australian territory.

He also served as station leader at Mawson Station, Antarctica in 1955 and 1959. From there he led field trips of up to 600 km inland, exploring MacRobertson Land and the Prince Charles Mountains region. He was awarded the Polar Medal for this exploration work.[1]

Béchervaise visited American Antarctic bases in 1966 as an Australian observer with Operation Deep Freeze.

John Béchervaise returned to the Antarctic on MV Nanok S on her first trip south with ANARE in the summer of 1979–80 which also carried a large contingent of naval personnel. Béchervaise provided his knowledge to the Naval contingent.

Béchervaise Island (or 'Bech' to locals), was named on 1 January 2000 in his honour. It is the largest, central island of the Flat Islands, about 2 km WNW of Mawson Station.

Béchervaise was a highly respected teacher at Geelong Grammar School during the 1960s and early 1970s. He gave many lectures detailing adventures in Antarctica as well as similar escapades in Europe, an altogether inspirational teacher for those lucky enough to be his students. For three weeks in Lent 1963 when he went to the Antarctic islands on the Magga Dan, his lessons were taken by a British student Peter Bottomley, now Sir Peter Bottomley MP.

(His great-great-grandfather who came from Jersey and had the same name received the 1818–1855 British Arctic medal and published an anonymous memoir Thirty-Six Years of a Seafaring life by An old Quartermaster in 1839. (Copies are in the British Library and Caird Library in Greenwich and it is available in facsimile from several publishers). Some sources misspell his name Berchervaise).


Béchervaise wrote numerous articles in Walkabout, the Victorian Naturalist and elsewhere. Some of his published books are:

  • 1947 – Barwon and Barrabools – Poems with Pictures. Henry Thacker: Geelong.
  • 1957 – ANARE: Australia's Antarctic Outposts. OUP: Melbourne. (With Philip Law).
  • 1959 – Antarctica: Australian Explorers. OUP: Melbourne.
  • 1961 – The Far South. Angus & Robertson: Sydney.
  • 1963 – Blizzard and Fire. A year at Mawson, Antarctica. Angus & Robertson: Sydney.
  • 1967 – Australia: World of Difference. The Australian transition. Rigby: Adelaide.
  • 1967 – Australia and Antarctica. Nelson Doubleday: Sydney.
  • 1968 – Australian Mountains and Rivers. Nelson Doubleday:
  • 1970 – Ballarat and Western Goldfields Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1970 – Bendigo and Eastern Goldfields Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1971 – Blue Mountain Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1973 – Old Melbourne Hotels Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1975 – Grampians Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1976 – Old Victorian Country Pubs Sketchbook. Rigby: Adelaide.
  • 1976 – Wilsons Promontory. Rigby: Adelaide.
  • 1977 – Ballarat sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1977 – Historic Melbourne Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1977 – University of Melbourne Sketchbook. Rigby: Adelaide.
  • 1978 – Science: Men on Ice in Antarctica. Lothian Publishing: Melbourne.
  • 1979 – Antarctica. The Last Horizon. Cassell: Stanmore. (Revised and expanded edition of The Far South).
  • 1979 – Castlemaine Sketchbook. Rigby.
  • 1980 – Rediscovering Victoria's Goldfields. Pitman: Carlton.
  • 1982 – The Bendigo Book. Bendigo Ampersand Publishing.
  • 1985 – The University of Melbourne – an Illustrated Perspective. MUP: Carlton.
  • 1995 – Arctic and Antarctic – the Will and the Way of John Riddoch Rymill. Bluntisham Books: UK.


  1. ^ The London Gazette (30 October 1956). "Admiralty, Whitehall, SW1" (PDF). The London Gazette.