Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance





Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO, RNR (February 15, 1874 – January 5, 1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer, now chiefly remembered for his Antarctic expedition of 1914–1916 in the ship Endurance.


After Captain Scott died during an attempt to reach the South Pole in 1912, Shackleton (1874–1922) chose to tackle the challenge of Antarctica in a different way. He decided he would attempt to journey across the icy continent from one side to the other via the South Pole.

Shackleton was a romantic adventurer, who became interested in exploration and joined the Royal Geographical Society while still at sea. In 1901 he got a place on Captain Scott's first Antarctic expedition, in the Discovery, through his seafaring skills and contact with one of the expedition sponsors.


In 1907, he led his own British Antarctic Expedition in the Nimrod. Other members of the expedition climbed Mount Erebus and reached the south magnetic pole. Using ponies and also dragging his own sledges Shackleton himself led a party which reached to only 97 miles from the Pole. Although there had not been much government support beforehand, Shackleton received a hero's welcome when he returned. He was knighted, becoming Sir Ernest Shackleton.





Frank Worsley and Ernest Shackleton, surveying the Antarctic ice


Stuck in the ice, Antarctic surveyor Frank Worsley and Ernest Shackleton





Antarctica is an enormous continent. More than 99% of it is covered by ice. In places, this ice is more than three miles thick. Antarctica is completely surrounded by the vast Southern Ocean, half of which freezes in winter. It is high, windy and extremely cold. There is no indigenous human population and no life forms at all except around the coast


More than 2000 years ago, Greek writers described a large mass of land in the south of the world. Even though they had never seen it, they believed it must exist so that it could 'balance' the land they knew about in the northern half of the world. They named this imagined land 'Anti-Arkitos', meaning the 'opposite of the Arctic'.

Did explorers before Shackleton try to reach the Antarctic?


Yes. For instance, Captain Cook had tried to find the great southern continent on his second Pacific voyage of 1772–74. In 1912, an expedition led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott had been narrowly beaten in the race to be first to the South Pole by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.





Shackleton was born in Kilkee, County Clare, Ireland in 1874, and served as a merchant marine officer. He went to school at Dulwich College from 1887 to 1890. In 1904 he married Emily Dorman. They had three children - Raymond, Cecily and Edward (Eddie), born in 1911. Their marriage was marred by numerous affairs on Ernest's part, most notably his relationship with the American born actress Rosalind Chetwynd (Rosa Lynd) which was begun in 1910 and continued on and off until his death in 1922.






1901 National Antarctic Expedition


Shackleton participated in the National Antarctic Expedition, which was organized by the Royal Geographical Society in 1901, and led by Robert Falcon Scott. This expedition is also called the "Discovery Expedition", as its ship was called Discovery. The expedition was the first to penetrate the Ross Sea and reach the Ross Ice Shelf. He may have placed what has become one of the world's most famous advertisements in the Times of London in December 1901: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." (Some historians have claimed that this ad was placed, although they do not all agree on when or which newspaper, but no one has yet been able to locate the original newspaper clipping.)



1902 attempt on the South Pole


Shackleton with Scott and Dr Edward Wilson trekked south towards the South Pole in 1902. The journey proceeded under difficult conditions, partially the result of their own inexperience with the Antarctic environment, poor choices and preparation and the pervading assumption that all obstacles could be overcome with personal fortitude. They used dogs, but failed to understand how to handle them. As with most of the early British expeditions, food was foolishly in short supply; the personnel on long treks were usually underfed by any sensible measure and were essentially starving. Scott, Wilson and Shackleton made their "furthest south" of 82°17'S on December 31, 1902. They were 463 nautical miles (857 km) from the Pole. Shackleton developed scurvy on the return trip and Dr. Wilson suffered from snow blindness at intervals.


When Morning relieved the expedition in early 1903, Scott had Shackleton returned to England, though he had nearly fully recovered. There is some suggestion that Scott disliked Shackleton's popularity in the expedition and used his health as an excuse to remove him; he was Merchant Marine and Scott was Royal Navy - which was also part of the contention with whether Albert Armitage was to remain for the second winter. In part, Scott exhibited unusual stamina and may not have recognized differing abilities of others.






Endurance being crushed by the ice, and sinking




1907–1909 British Antarctic Expedition


Shackleton organized and led the "British Antarctic Expedition" (1907–1909) to Antarctica. The primary and stated goal was to reach the South Pole. The expedition is also called the Nimrod Expedition after its ship, and the "Farthest South" expedition. Shackleton's base camp was built on Ross Island at Cape Royds, approximately 20 miles (40 km) north of the Scott's Hut of the 1901–1904 expedition; the hut built at this camp in 1908 is on the list of the World Monuments Watch's 100 most endangered sites. Because of poor success with dogs during Scott's 1901–1904 expedition, Shackleton used Manchurian ponies for transport, which did not prove successful.


Accomplishments of the expedition included the first ascent of Mount Erebus, the active volcano of Ross Island; the location of the Magnetic South Pole by Douglas Mawson, Edgeworth David and MacKay (January 16, 1909); and locating the Beardmore Glacier passage. Shackleton, with Wild, Marshall, and Adams, reached 88°23'S: a point only 180 km (97 nautical miles) from the South Pole. While the expedition did not make it to the pole, nonetheless, Shackleton, Adams, Marshall, and Wild were the first humans to not only cross the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, but also the first humans to set foot on the South Polar Plateau.


Shackleton returned to the United Kingdom a hero and was immediately knighted. For three years he was able to bask in the glory of being "the man who reached furthest to the south." Of his failure to reach the South Pole, Shackleton remarked: "Better a live donkey than a dead lion." It should, however, be pointed out that Shackleton and his group were exceedingly fortunate to return from the Pole. They had cut rations severely, such that there was no margin of safety. They had very good weather throughout their return, in contrast to Scott's experience three years later.





Sir Ernest Shackleton's hut in Antarctica


Ernest Shackleton's hut Antarctica - endangered monument





Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Expedition Hut - Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica

Built in 1908, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Hut at Cape Royds is one of six wooden building ensembles remaining on Earth’s southernmost continent from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Used as an expedition base and laboratory for scientific research, the building was designed to withstand extreme weather conditions.


A century of Antarctic blizzards later, the hut is in surprisingly good condition, but it has begun to suffer the ravages of time and increased human visitation, and is in need of urgent conservation. Shortly before the site’s placement on WMF’s 2004 list of 100 Most Endangered Sites, the New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust had completed a comprehensive conservation masterplan for the building and the artifacts associated with it that includes measures needed to maintain the site, which would take an estimated five years and $3.8 million to implement. Since listing, the hut has attracted increased media visibility and has accrued grants totaling more than $350,000 toward its preservation. Efforts to remediate the immediate threat posed by decaying stores left outside the hut were completed during the astral summer 2004–2005, while the development of methods to address specific conservation problems at the site is well underway. Far more must be done, however, before the site is out of danger, which is why Shackleton’s Hut remains on WMF’s 2006 Watch list. The need to increase international support for preserving the hut is underscored by the ambiguous legal status of the explorers’ huts under the Antarctic Treaty and the physical challenge of carrying out preservation work in such an extreme environment.



1914–1916 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition


The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out from London on August 1, 1914 with the goal of crossing the Antarctic from a location near Vahsel Bay on the south side of the Weddell Sea, reach the South Pole and then continue to Ross Island on the opposite side of the continent. The expedition's goal had to be abandoned when the ship, Endurance, was beset by sea ice short of its goal of Vahsel Bay. It was later crushed by the pack ice.


The ship's crew and the expedition personnel endured an epic journey by sledge across the Weddell Sea pack and then boat to Elephant Island. Upon arrival at Elephant Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, they rebuilt one of their small boats and Shackleton with five others set sail for South Georgia to seek help. This remarkable journey in the 6.7-meter boat James Caird through the Drake Passage to South Georgia in the late Antarctic Fall (April and May) is perhaps without rival. They landed on the southern coast of South Georgia and then crossed the spine of the island in an equally remarkable 36-hour journey. The 22 men who remained on Elephant Island were rescued by the Chilean ship Yelcho after three other failed attempts on August 30, 1916 (22 months after departing from South Georgia). Everyone from Endurance survived.



What was Shackleton's most difficult journey of exploration?

In 1914, in command of a party in the ship Endurance, Shackleton set off to cross the Antarctic from one side to the other, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. As both Amundsen and Scott had reached the South Pole and the Americans had reached the North Pole, he saw this as the last great challenge.

Although the expedition failed because Shackleton did not reach the South Pole, in other ways it was his biggest success. He triumphed over enormous difficulties to bring his men safely home after the Endurance was trapped and crushed by ice in the Weddell Sea. To do so, he made an incredible journey to get help.

Shackleton and his men set sail in August 1914, just as war was starting in Europe. On 19 January 1915, Endurance became locked in the ice of the Weddell Sea. Over the course of the next nine months the ship was gradually crushed, finally sinking on 27 October. It proved impossible for the 28 men to drag their boats and stores across the frozen sea so Shackleton camped on the ice and drifted with it. When the ice began to break up as it drifted north into warmer waters, the men launched the three boats and, in dangerous conditions, managed to reach Elephant Island. This rocky and barren island was still more than 800 miles from the nearest inhabited land with people who could help them.

They were cold and exhausted, and weak from the hardships of the journey. They knew they would not be found and could not all sail further. They were also worried that their supplies of food would not last long. There were seals and penguins to kill for food and fuel but not many and they eventually had to rely on collecting shellfish.







Sir Ernest Shackleton, 1874–1922


He decided to leave most of the party behind, while he set out in a boat to reach South Georgia, the nearest inhabited island, 800 miles away. He knew that he would find help there, at the Norwegian whaling stations on the north side.

No. He and five others left in the best of their ship's boats, the James Caird. Although it was winter and the Southern Ocean is the stormiest in the world, they knew the plan was their best hope for the survival of the whole party. When the six set sail, the rest of the group were left behind to make camp on Elephant Island.  The James Caird was just over 7 metres long and 2 metres wide.


Did Shackleton make any changes to the boat before they set sail?

Yes. The carpenter, 'Chippy' McNeish, made the bottom of the boat stronger, and stretched a canvas deck over most of it to give some shelter. The journey was extremely dangerous. On many occasions, the six believed they were about to sink in the terrifying conditions they encountered, with waves which seemed as high as mountains and violent storms. They were constantly wet and cold and one of the biggest dangers they faced was the weight of the ice collecting on the boat as the sea-spray froze. Several times they risked their lives hacking it off to prevent the boat capsizing. They also had a real fear that their water would run out before they made land. After 15 exhausting days at sea, they finally sighted South Georgia.


They found it very difficult to find a place to land their boat safely, and were forced by gale, which nearly wrecked them on the coast, to spend two more nights at sea. Eventually, they managed to get into a cove in King Haakon Bay on the south of the island. To their relief, they found a stream with fresh water almost immediately. They found a cliff overhang where they could shelter and light a fire for warmth.


Shackleton led, taking the tough seaman Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, the expert navigator on the James Caird, who also had mountaineering experience. The journey involved a climb of nearly 3000 feet (914 metres). They did not take a tent and could not rest for long because they could easily freeze to death if they fell asleep in the snow. Apart from short breaks they marched continuously for 36 hours, covering some 40 miles over mountainous and icy terrain.

They heard the steam-whistle of the Stromness whaling station, signalling the start of another day's work at 07.00. After scrambling down a final ridge, the three men at last reached people who could help them.

They were all rescued. Those on Elephant Island had to wait longer, until 30 August 1916, but were eventually picked up by Shackleton on a Chilean navy tug. All the men believed that their survival was due largely to his tremendous leadership. Many would have believed it impossible to bring all his men home with no lives lost. Many of his men were to return immediately to the harsh reality of the First World War. Tragically, after surviving so many dangers with Shackleton, some were to perish in it.



1921 Final expedition


In 1921, Shackleton set out on another Antarctic expedition, but died of a heart attack on board his ship, the Quest, while anchored off South Georgia Island on January 5, 1922. His body was being returned to England when his widow requested that the burial take place on Grytviken, South Georgia Island instead. Shackleton was buried there on March 5.


Nowadays, the southern continent is shared between 27 nations that have scientists based there. The things they study include changes in climate and the destruction of the ozone layer. For further information about the Antarctic today visit the British Antarctic Survey website.





In 1994, the James Caird Society was set up to preserve the memory of Shackleton's achievements. Its first Life President was Shackleton's younger son, Edward Shackleton.


Sir Ernest Shackleton is the subject of Shackleton, a two-part Channel 4 drama directed by Charles Sturridge and starring Kenneth Branagh as the explorer. The same story is related in greater detail in the book Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing.


Shackleton's grave, near the former whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia is frequently visited by tourists from passing cruise ships. The British Antarctic Survey's logistics vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton (the replacement for RRS Bransfield) is named in his honour.





The name 'Endurance' has been applied to two ships of the Royal Navy, inspired by the 1912 ship used by Sir Ernest Shakleton.

1912 SHIP

The Endurance was the three-masted barquentine in which Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed for the Antarctic on the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. She was launched in 1912 from Sandefjord in Norway and was crushed by ice, causing her to sink, three years later in the Weddell Sea off Antarctica.

Design and construction

Designed by Aanderud Larsen, the Endurance was built at the Framnaes shipyard in Sandefjord, Norway and fully completed on December 17, 1912. She was built under the supervision of master wood shipbuilder Christian Jacobsen, who was renown for insisting that all men employed under him not just be skilled shipwrights, but also be experienced in seafaring aboard whaling or sealing ships. Every detail of her construction had been scrupulously planned to ensure maximum durability, for example every joint and every fitting cross-braced each other for maximum strength

She was launched on December 17, 1912 and was initially christened the Polaris (eponymous with Polaris, the North Star). She was 144 feet (43.9 m) long, with a 25 foot (7.6 m) beam and weighed 350 tons (356 metric tons). She was designed for polar conditions with a very sturdy construction, her sides were between 2 1/2 feet and 18 inches thick, with twice as many frames as normal and the frames being of double thickness. She was built of planks of oak and Norwegian fir up to two and one half feet thick, sheathed in greenheart, a notably strong and heavy wood. Her bow, where she would meet the ice head-on, had been given special attention. Each timber had been made from a single oak tree chosen for its shape so that is natural shape followed the curve of her design. When put together, these pieces had a thickness of 4 feet, 4 inches. Her keel members were four pieces of solid oak, one above the other, adding up to a thickness of 7 feet, 1 inch.

Of her three masts, the forward one was square-rigged, while the after two carried fore and aft sails, like a schooner. As well as sails, Endurance had a 350 hp (260 kW) coal-fired steam engine capable of driving her at speeds up to 10.2 knots (19 km/h).

By the time she was launched on December 17, 1912, Endurance was perhaps the strongest wooden ship ever built, with the possible exception of the Fram, the vessel used by Fridtjof Nansen and later by Roald Amundsen. However, there was one major difference between both ships. The Fram was bowl-bottomed, which meant that if the ice closed in against her she would be squeezed up and out and not be subject to the pressure of the ice compressing around her. But since the Endurance was designed to operate in relatively loose pack ice she was not constructed so as to rise out of pressure to any great extent.


She was built for Adrien de Gerlache and Lars Christensen. They intended to use her for polar cruises for tourists to hunt polar bears. Financial problems leading to de Gerlache pulling out of their partnership meant that Christensen was happy to sell the boat to Ernest Shackleton for GB£11,600 (approx US$67,000), less than cost. He is reported to have said he was happy to take the loss in order to further the plans of an explorer of Shackleton's stature. After Shackleton's purchase the ship was re-christened Endurance after the Shackleton family motto "Fortitudine vincimus" (By endurance we conquer).

Final voyage

Shackleton sailed with Endurance from Plymouth, England on August 6, 1914 and set course for Buenos Aires, Argentina. This was Endurance's first major cruising since her completion and amounted to a shakedown cruise. The trip across the Atlantic took more than two months. Built for the ice, her hull was considered by many of its crew too rounded for the open ocean. On October 26, 1914 Endurance sailed from Buenos Aires to her last port of call, the Grytviken whaling station on the island of South Georgia off the southern tip of South America, where she arrived on November 5. She departed from Grytviken for her final voyage on December 5, 1914 towards the southern regions of the Weddell Sea.

The 25 man crew (and one stow away) were headed for Antarctica. The goal was to land on one side of Antarctica and send a 6 man dog sled team 3,000 kilometers across the continent to be the first to make a cross continental journey. As they journeyed South they joked with the young stowaway that if anything should happen he would be eaten first since there were no edible plants in Antarctica and only penguins, seals & walrus's during the summer.

Two days after leaving from South Georgia, Endurance encountered polar pack ice and progress slowed down. For weeks Endurance twisted and squirmed her way through the pack. Though slow, she kept moving but averaged less than 30 miles per day. By January 15, Endurance was within 200 miles of its destination, Vahsel Bay. However by the following day heavy pack ice was sighted in the morning and in the afternoon a blowing gale developed. Under these conditions it was soon evident progress could not be made, and Endurance took shelter under the lee of a large grounded berg. During the next two days Endurance dogged back and forth under the sheltering protection of the berg.

On January 18 the gale began to moderate and thus Endurance, one day short of her destination, set the topsail with the engine at slow. The pack had blown away. Progress was made slowly until hours later Endurance encountered the pack once more. It was decided to move forward and work through the pack, and at 5pm Endurance entered it. However it was noticed that this ice was different from what had been encountered before. The ship was soon engulfed by thick but soft ice floes. The ship floated in a soupy sea of mushy brash ice. The ship was beset. The gale now increased its intensity and kept blowing for another six days from a northerly direction towards land. By January 24, the wind had completely compressed the ice in the whole Weddell Sea against the land. The ice had packed snugly around Endurance. All that could be done was to wait for a southerly gale that would start pushing, decompressing and opening the ice in the other direction. Instead the days passed and the pack remained unchanged.










Endurance, the lost ship of Anglo-Irish explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, has finally been identified on the floor of Antarctica's Weddell Sea. The vessel was crushed by sea-ice and sank on 21 November 1915, forcing Shackleton and his men to make a heroic escape on foot and in small boats.

Marine archaeologist Mensun Bound described the condition of Endurance to the BBC.

"Without any exaggeration this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen - by far.

It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.

You can even see the ship's name - E N D U R A N C E - arced across its stern directly below the taffrail (a hand rail near the stern). And beneath, as bold as brass, is Polaris, the five-pointed star, after which the ship was originally named.

I tell you, you would have to be made of stone not to feel a bit squishy at the sight of that star and the name above.

And just under the tuck of the stern, laying in the silt is the source of all their troubles, the rudder itself. You will remember that it was when the rudder was torn to one side by the ice that the water came pouring in and it was game-over. It just sends shivers up your spine.

When you rise up over the stern, there is another surprise. There, in the well deck, is the ship's wheel with all its spokes showing, absolutely intact. And before it is the companionway (with the two leaves of its door wide open) leading down to the cabin deck. The famous Frank Hurley (expedition photographer) picture of Thomas Ord Lees (motor expert) about to go down into the ship was taken right there.

And beside the companion way, you can see a porthole that is Shackleton's cabin. At that moment, you really do feel the breath of the great man upon the back of your neck. 

The funnel is still there, but not upright, lying semi-thwartships (almost at a right-angle to the keel), still with its steam whistle attached. Beside it is the engine room skylight. We could look down through it. I was hoping to see the cylinder heads of its triple-steam expansion engines, but couldn't quite make them out.

Near midships there is a boot, with another one, maybe its pair, in the debris field beside the wreck; also several plates and a cup.

When the mast fell, it crushed the ward room with the bridge deck above, but you can see the outline of the wardroom and beside it the galley and pantry. One wall of the galley is still standing with its two forward portholes intact. 

On the weather deck, you can see the forward hold and skylight with the fo'c'sle deck (the upper-deck forward of the foremast) just beyond.

The fo'c'sle deck is damaged, for although the vessel went down keel first, she was down slightly at the bow so it was that part of the hull that first struck the seabed and so took the shock of impact.

The capstan is still visible on the fo'c'sle deck and beside it is one of the anchors. The other anchor broke free; it snakes out over the seabed.

The bow looks amazing. You can see its forward raking stem and the metal-shod cutwater that cleaved the ice.

The masts, spars, booms and gaffs are all down, just as in the final pictures of her taken by Frank Hurley. You can see the breaks in the masts just as in the photos. There is a tangle of ropes, blocks and deadeyes.

You can even see the holes that Shackleton's men cut in the decks to get through to the 'tween decks to salvage supplies, etc, using boat hooks. In particular, there was the hole they cut through the deck in order to get into "The Billabong", the cabin in "The Ritz" that had been used by Hurley, Leonard Hussey (meteorologist), James McIlroy (surgeon) and Alexander Macklin (surgeon), but which was used to store food supplies at the time the ship went down.

I had been hoping to find Orde Lees' bicycle, but that wasn't visible, nor were there any of the honey jars that Robert Clark (biologist) used to preserve his samples that I also hoped I might find.

The depth is 3,008m (9,868ft).

Endurance was found just over four nautical miles (7.5km) and roughly southward of Frank Worsley's famous sinking position (68°39'30" South; 52°26'30" West).

We found the wreck a hundred years to the day after Shackleton's funeral (5 March 1922). I don't usually go with this sort of stuff at all, but this one I found a bit spooky."



Ernest Shackleton  HMS Discovery, Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic exploration ship  Portait of Sir Ernest Shackleton   



Sir Ernest Shackleton and Endurance





Sunset, the heart of the Antarctic 1909



Sunset In: "The Heart of the Antarctic" Volume I by  Shackleton 1909














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