The first dogs

The Southern Cross was the first expedition to use dogs in Antarctica. They became an important part of Antarctic work for much of the twentieth century.

The expedition also brought two young Sami men, Ole Must and Per Savio, from the far north of Norway to care for and train the dogs. Their experience in cold climates and their skill in handling these half-wild animals were vital to the expedition’s survival.

Left: Ole Must, William Colbeck and Per Savio with some of the dogs prior to departure.

Must and Savio wore traditional Sami clothing throughout the expedition. Their Sami tent is also visible in this photo. It would prove to be a life-saver on the team’s first night in Antarctica, 1898

Canterbury Museum 1978.207.102. No known copyright holder

Per Savio with some of the dogs during the journey south, 1898–1899

Canterbury Museum 1978.207.124. No known copyright holder

Persen Savio on deck of Southern Cross with dogs

Around 95 samoyeds and huskies were aboard the Southern Cross when it left England. They had been bought in Siberia and Greenland for nearly £2,000, which would be more than NZ$400,000 today.

The dogs were kennelled during the journey south, creating an awful stench on deck. Their feet bled as they were tossed by rough seas onto the hard boards and their coats had to be clipped as the ship passed through the tropics.

On arrival at Cape Adare, the dogs were allowed to run free, but they fought viciously and caused mass destruction in the unsuspecting penguin colony.

They were eventually kennelled in packing cases outside the huts.

Men from Southern Cross expedition hauling supplies at Cape Adare

Hauling stores up the beach at Cape Adare, February 1899

Canterbury Museum 1978.207.7. No known copyright holder


This significant event was unplanned.

A sudden storm blew up on 19 February while supplies were being landed, stranding seven men ashore with the dogs. Luckily, Ole Must and Per Savio had brought their tent. Otherwise there would have been no shelter against the gale.

The wind soon grew too fierce for a fire and the group had no sleeping bags. Several dogs forced their way into the tent, but the men were grateful because the dogs lay on top of them, sharing their warmth so no one froze. If it weren’t for the dogs and the forethought of Must and Savio, the Southern Cross expedition might have ended that night, in tragedy.

Dog coat

Camel hair dog coat

Antarctic Heritage Trust 11957.1

Uncertain how the dogs would fare in Antarctic conditions, the expedition brought protective gear for them, including fur boots and woollen coats. Most went unused.

Persen Savio on skis with dogs

Per Savio exercising the dogs on the sea ice, 1899

Canterbury Museum 1978.207.39. No known copyright holder

Dog chain and tether post

Antarctic Heritage Trust 12019.1

Stake and chain for chaining up sledge dogs

The dogs had to be tethered to stop them wandering but also to curb the fights that often broke out between them.

Dog collar belonging to Joe, sledge dog on Southern Cross and Discovery expeditions

Joe’s dog collar

Canterbury Museum 2013.3.1


During the heroic era, some explorers built up close associations with particular dogs. This collar belonged to Joe, a dog who worked with Louis Bernacchi on the Southern Cross expedition and again when Bernacchi returned to Antarctica with Captain Robert Falcon Scott on the Discovery.

Bernacchi has attached a brass name plate for Joe to both sides of the collar, one for each expedition.

Descendants of the Southern Cross expedition in Christchurch

Descendants of the Southern Cross dogs in Christchurch prior to departure on Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition, 1907

Canterbury Museum 10274. No known copyright holder

After returning from Antarctica, this descendant of a Southern Cross samoyed became a family pet in Christchurch. Its proud owner is Beatrice Curlett, who married Antarctic explorer, Ernest Joyce, 1909

Canterbury Museum 1980.175.21122. No known copyright holder

Beatrice Curlett with samoyed descended from Southern Cross dogs

After the expedition, the surviving dogs were quarantined at Stewart Island, the southernmost island in New Zealand, under the care of the Traill family. The Traills sold pups from the white samoyeds, creating a line of pure-bred Southern Hemisphere samoyeds which exists to this day.

In 1907, Ernest Shackleton took descendants of these dogs to Antarctica on the Nimrod expedition.