Launched: 15 March 2017.         Last updated: 15 December 2018

It is now well established and known that there are two versions or variants having to do with the text of the Aurora Australis. These occur in the chapter entitled "An Ancient Manuscript." The sixth unnumbered page of this chapter is either an illustration of the Nimrod entitled "Many Shekels Were Needed for the Ship to go Forth" (Variant A) or all text (Variant B).

Some text is common to both variants; other text only appears in Variant B. To better understand this refer to this graphic representation.

Two theories have been advanced to explain this:


This writer—Robert Stephenson—is responsible for the first. It goes back to 1978 when I purchased my copy from Francis Edwards Ltd of London. The book was sent on approval and before accepting it, I took it to Houghton Library to collate it with Harvard's copy. With the two Aurora's side by side, I slowly turned the leaves. In time the illustration in question appeared in the Harvard copy but not in the copy I was about to purchase. Once I had recovered my composure I thought I had figured it out. The book was produced as a collection of single leaves printed on both recto and verso, punched in the margin and laced together with a cord. The illustration (with text on the recto) either became separated from its neighbors in some way or was removed, perhaps by someone who liked the illustration and found it "suitable for framing."

However, upon closer inspection, I realized that there was no break in the text—which would be the case as there was text on the other side of the leaf—but rather the text read right through. Then I discovered in the copy I was buying that it had text that the Harvard copy didn't have.

I then decided what might have happened is that in the crowded confusion of the Cape Royds Hut, during the printing process, the illustration, a wood cut or engraving, I'm not sure which, became damaged and unusable. Rather than do it over, it was decided to reset both sides of the leaf as text and proceed from there.

I settled by bill with Francis Edwards and then started looking at other copies of the Aurora, always checking to see whether the illustration was there or the added text. Forty years later I'm still checking.

The second theory has been advanced by Marty Greene of Seattle who, until recently, was an Aurora owner.


Marty's views are well described in a piece he did for Book Talk: Essays on Books, Booksellers, Collecting, and Special Collections, edited by Robert H. Jackson and Caroi Zeman Rothkopf (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2006), entitled "Aurora Australis (1908), Edited By Ernest H. Shackleton: A New Description of the First State of the First Book Published on the Antarctic Continent."

Marty's thesis is, in a nutshell, that the text variant/version came first and the illustrated variant/version came second. He believes that some of the text that appears in Variant B might have been poorly received by wealthy persons in England and that future fundraising might be adversely affected. Shackleton and the printers therefore decided that the simplest solution would be to reset the leaft by changing the text and inserting an illustration.

Although the change was made several copies of the all-text Variant B were still issued (why is a mystery).

Whatever theory one accepts, the situation remains that there are two versions—one with all text and one with the illustration.

There are far more copies with the illustration than without it but the saleroom prices don't seem to have been affected one way or the other.

The table below summarizes the current situation:

59 copies are known to have the illustration (Variant A)
11 copies are known to not have the illustration, i.e. all text (Variant B), and…
27 copies may have one or the other but no information is available.
1 copy has neither the illustration nor the text.

A AURORA AUSTRALIS -Variant A, with the illustration
  Copy No Owner / Name
1 1 John Carter Brown Library. Swan copy.
2 2 Columbia University. Bassett Jones copy.
3 3 Dartmouth College. Stefansson copy.
4 4 Harvard University. Frost copy.
5 5 Huntington Library. Edith Shackleton copy.
6 6 Library of Congress
7 7 Morgan Library
8 8 New York Public Library. Spencer copy.
9 10 University of Chicago
10 11 Christ's College, Cambridge. Priestley copy.
11 12/280 Dulwich College. Kipling copy.
12 13 Dundee Heritage Trust. Joel copy.
13 14 National Library of Scotland
14 15/282 National Maritime Museum. Dawson-Lambton copy.
15 16 National Maritime Museum. Elspeth Invernairn copy.
16 18 Scott Polar Research Institute. Emily Shackleton copy. Mill copy.
17 19 Bodleian Library. Ehrman copy.
18 20 Australian Antarctic Division. Davis copy.
19 21 National Library of Australia. Kivell copy.
20 22 State Library of N.S.W. Dixson Library
21 23 State Library of N.S.W. Mitchell Library
22 28 University of New England. Griffith Taylor copy. David copy.
23 29/289 Canterbury Museum. Nuttall copy. 
24 31 Turnbull Library. Turnbull copy.
25 32/250 British Library. Streeter copy.
26 33 National Library of Australia. White copy.
27 34 Newberry Library. Marshall copy. Kendall copy. Fitzgerald copy.
28 35 Eton College. Eckstein copy.
29 36 Scott Polar Research Institute. Priestley copy.
30 37 South Australian Museum. Mawson copy.
31 39/317 Scott Polar Research Institute. Dunlop giant tick copy.
32 40/273 Turnbull Library. Truscott copy.
33 41/268/303/312 Kislak Foundation. Maylin copy. Bernacchi copy.
34 42 Oates Collection
35 43/206 Royal Geographical Society
36 100/306 Seattle copy. Lascaux copy.
37 101 Campbell copy.
38 102/259/288 Crawford copy. Starr copy. Miss Wild copy. Holmes copy.
39 105/314 Santa Monica copy. Sheaf copy. Baume copy.
40 106 Lord Shackleton copy.
41 108/290 Taaffe copy. Belle Donaldson copy. Skellerup copy.
42 109/261/286/311 Taurus copy. Dropmore copy.
43 110/309 Ernest Joyce copy. Krementz copy.
44 112/315 Brooke-Hitching copy.
45 113 Private Collection Devon
46 115 West Coast USA copy.Hill copy. Manney copy.
47 116/165? Antipodean Books
48 122/267/302/319 Fitzsimmons copy. Porter copy. West Virginia copy.
49 123 Private Collection New Zealand. White copy. Reaney copy.
50 124/201 Brocklehurst copy.
51 126/274 Simper copy. Lysaght copy
52 127 Cotton copy. Priestley copy.
53 128 Chrisant copy. Bogoievski copy.
54 129/254/264 Stewart copy #1. Zust copy. Renard copy. Since sold.
55 130 Aeneas Mackintosh copy. Dowler copy.
56 134/266 Stancomb-Wills copy.
57 135/269 Lady Grey copy.
58 136/270 Cooper copy. Wild copy. Holmes copy. Keynes copy.
59 137/316 Sothebys 2016
B AURORA AUSTRALIS -Variant B, without the illustration, all text.
  Copy No Owner/Name
1 9/34/169 UCLA. Goodwin copy. 
2 17 Royal Collections Windsor Castle
3 24 State Library of Tasmania. Davis copy.
4 25 Museum Victoria. Eager copy. Ramsay copy.
5 26 State Library of South Australia. Symon copy.
6 27 University of Adelaide. Mawson copy.
7 30 Turnbull Library. Kinsey copy.
8 103/133/255 Renard 1994. Greene copy. Now Bay Area collector.
9 104/271/308 Levinson copy. Buckley copy.
10 107/251 F. Edwards 1978. Stephenson copy.
11 132 Maggs copy. Since sold.
C AURORA AUSTRALIS -Unknown which variant
  Copy No Owner/Name
1 44 State Library of Victoria. Mackeller copy.
2 45 Sissinghurst Castle Garden. Carnock copy. 
3 111 Harrison/Metz copy.
4 114 Norfolk, UK copy. Scott-Fawcett copy.
5 117/163 Scotland copy.
6 119 Private Collection Perth Australia Copy 1
7 120 Private Collection Perth Australia Copy 2
8 121 Private Collection New Mexico
9 125 Private Collection San Rafael Califoprnia
10 131 Murray copy.
11 150 Argentina Private Collection #1
12 151 Australia Private Collection #1 NSW
13 152 Australia Private Collection #2 NSW
14 153 Australia Private Collection #3 NSW
15 154 Australia Private Collection #4 Victoria
16 155 Australia Private Collection #5 Victoria
17 156 France Private Collection #1
18 157 New Zealand Private Collection #1 Near Christchurch
19 158 New Zealand Private Collection #2 Near Lower Hutt
20 159 New Zealand Private Collection #3 Near Wellington
21 160 UK Private Collection #1 Oxford
22 161 UK Private Collection #2 London
23 162 UK Private Collection #3 Sutton Coldfield
24 163 UK Private Collection #4 Scotland
25 164 UK Private Collection #5 Middlesex
26 166 UK Private Collection #6 Herefordshire
27 168 UK Private Collection #8 London
  Copy No Owner/Name
1 38 Scott Polar Research Library - Dunlop Dummy (no text or illustration)