Ernest Shackleton | International Antarctic Centre

Ernest Shackleton

The spirit of the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’ was epitomised in the man named Shackleton.

Early Antarctic explorer Sir Raymond Priestley described the strength of his peers by saying, “Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton”

Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton was a member of Captain Scott’s Discovery expedition between 1901 and 1904. Between 1907 and 1910 he would then led the next British expedition on the Nimrod. On this journey his group would reach the 88th parallel. Travelling another 97 nautical miles would have led them to the South Pole.

After news arrived that Amundsen had won the race to the pole, Shackleton turned to a new goal. He planned to be the first man to achieve a sea-to-sea crossing of the Antarctic, reaching the pole and continuing across.

He set off in 1914, making his way beyond the tip of South America aiming to push through the Weddell Sea to land. That his ship was called the Endurance was both acknowledgement of the reality facing his crew and a forewarning of what was to come.

The journey was halted by impenetrable pack ice. This ice would first trap the Endurance before taking it northward through 1915’s winter. Eventually, inexorably, the ice would crush and sink the ship.

The 28-strong crew had no choice but to set up camp on the desolate ice, living for months here before setting out in lifeboats for the uninhabited Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and five others travelled across 1,300kms of storming seas in an open boat to South Georgia. They endured another epic trek across the island to civilisation, safety and planning for the rescue trip.

Despite such incredible challenges and severe hardship no lives were lost, testament to the leadership of Shackleton and the fortitude of his men.

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