Archive for April, 2013

Mutiny on the Bounty – 224 Years Ago Today

April 29, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

The Bounty

244 years ago today the most famous mutiny in maritime history was committed, sailors led by Fletcher Christian taking over the HMAV Bounty commanded by Captain William Bligh. Bligh wrote this in his logbook:

Bounty Logbook Apr 28, 1789

I now have to report one of the most atrocious acts of piracy ever committed.

Just before Sun rise Mr. Christian, Mate, Chas. Churchill, Ships Corporal, John Mills, Gunners Mate, and Thomas Burkett, Seaman, came into my Cabbin while I was a Sleep and seizing me tyed my hands with a Cord behind my back and threatened me with Instant death if I spoke or made the least noise. I however called so loud as to alarm every one, but the Officers found themselves secured by Centinels at their Doors. There were four Men in my Cabbin and three outside, Viz. Alexr. Smith, Jno. Sumner and Matw. Quintal. Mr. Christian had a Cutlass in his hand, the others had Musquets and bayonets. I was forced on Deck in my Shirt, suffering great pain from the Violence with which they had tied my hands. I demanded the reason for such a violent Act, but I received no Answer but threats of Instant death if 1 did not hold my tongue. Mr Hayward & Hallett were in Mr Christians Watch, but had no idea that any thing was doing untill they were all armed. The Arms were all Secured so that no one could get near them for Centinels. Mr. Elphinstone, the Mate, was secured to his Birth. Mr Nelson Botanist, Mr. Peckover Gunner, Mr Ledward Surgeon & the Master were confined to their Cabbins, as also Mr. Jno Samuel (Clerk) but who from finese got leave to come upon Deck. The Fore Hatchway was guarded by Centinels, the Boatswain and Carpenter were however allowed to come on Deck where they saw me Standing abaft the Mizen Mast with my hands tied behind my back, under a Guard with Christian at their Head.

The Boatswain was now ordered to hoist the Boat out, with a threat if he did not do it instantly to take care of himself.

Mr. Hayward and Hallet, Midshipmen, and Mr. Samuel were now ordered into the Boat, upon which I assumed my Authority and demanded the Cause of such an Order, at the same time endeavouring to bring some one to a sense of his duty, but it was to no effect. ‘Hold your tongue Sir or you are dead this Instant’ was constantly repeated to me.

The Master by this time had sent to be allowed to come on Deck and was permitted, and as soon was Ordered back to his Cabbin again, where he returned.

I continued to endeavor to change the Tide of affairs, when Christian changed the Cutlass he had in his hand for a Bayonet that was brought to him, and holding me with a Strong Grip by the cord that tied my hands, he continued to threaten me with instant death if I did not be quiet. The Villains round me had their peices Cocked & Bayonets fixed, and particular People were now called upon to go in the Boat, and were hurried over the side. With these people I concluded of course I was to be set a drift. I therefore in making another effort to bring about a Change expressed myself in such a Manner as to be saluted with ‘Blow his Brains out’.

The Boatswain and Seamen who were to go in the Boat, collected twine, canvas, Lines. Sails, Cordage and eight and twenty Gallon Cask of Water, and the Carpenter got his Tool Chest. Mr. Samuel got 150 lbs. Bread with a Small quantity of Rum and Wine. He also got a Quadrant and Compass into the Boat, but forbid on Pain of death touching any Map whatever, Ephemeris Book of Astronomical Observations, Sextants, Time Keeper or any of my Surveys or drawings.

The Mutineers were now hurrying every one into the Boat, and the most of them being in, Christian directed a Dram to be served to each of his Crew. I was now exceedingly fatigued, and unhappily saw I could do nothing to effect the Recovery of the Ship, every endeavor was threatened with death…. In all 25 Hands and the most able Men on board the Ship.

This is breifly the Statement of the Case. The Officers were called & forced into the Boat, while I was under a Guard abaft the Mizen Mast, Christian holding me by the Bandage that secured my hands with one hand, and a Bayonet in the other. The Men under Arms round me had their Peices cocked which so enraged me against those ungrateful Wretches that I dared them to fire and they uncocked them.

Isaac Martin, one of the Guard, I saw I had brought to a sense of his duty, and as he fed me with Shaddock. (my lips being so parched in endeavoring to bring about a Change in my Situation,) we explained to each other by our Eyes reciprocally our Wishes: This was however Observed, and Martin was instantly removed from me whose inclination then was to leave the Ship, but for a threat of instant death if he did not return out of the Boat.

The Armourer Joseph Coleman and the two Carpenters McIntosh and Norman were kept Contrary to their inclination, & they begged of me After I was veered astern in the Boat to remember that they declared they had no hand in the transaction. Michael Byrne the Fidler who is half blind I am told had no knowledge of what was done and Wanted to leave the Ship.

It is of no moment for me to recount my endeavors to rally and bring to a sense of their duty the Offenders, all I could do was by Speaking to every one in general, for no one was suffered to come near me. I did my duty as far as it was possible to save the Ship, and they knew me too Well to put much in my power and therefore bound me very securely.

To Mr. Samuel I am indebted for Securing to me my Journals and Commission with some Material Ships Papers. Without these I had nothing to Certify what I had done, and my honor and Character would have been in the power of Calumny without a proper document to have defended it. All this he did with great resolution, being guarded and Strictly Watched. He attempted to save the Time Keeper and a Box with all my Surveys, Drawings and remarks for 15 Years past which were numerous. Among which were my general Surveys of the West Coast of America, East Coast of Asia, the Sandwich and Friendly Islands, when he was hurried away with ‘—- your Eyes you are well off to get what you have’.

The Masters Cabbin was opposite mine, he saw them in my Cabbin for our Eyes met each other through his Door Window. He had a pair of Ships Pistols loaded and ammunition in his Cabin. A firm resolution might have made a good Use of them. These Pistols I had ordered for the Use of the Officer of the Watch, since the 24th of January, in case of desertion in the Night, and they were at first kept in the Binnacle, but upon consideration that they might be stolen from thence they were ever after kept in the Masters Cabbin. After he had sent twice or thrice to Christian to be allowed to come on Deck he was at last permitted and his question then was, Will you let me remain in the Ship? No. Have you any objection, Captn. Bligh? I whispered to him, Knock him down, Martin is good: for this was just before Martin was removed from me. Christian however pulled me back, and the Master went away with Orders to go again to his Cabbin, and I saw no more of him untill he was put into the Boat. He afterwards told me on my questioning him that he could find no Body to act with, that by staying in the Ship he hoped to have retaken her, and that as to the Pistols he was so flurried and surprized that he did not recollect he had them. His Brother said on my enquiring how the Keys of the Arms Chest came out of his Cabin, that Richard Skinner who attended on him had taken them away which was certainly the case.


As for the Officers whose Cabbins were in the Cockpitt, there was no releif for them; they endeavored to come to my Assistance, but were not allowed to put their heads above the Hatchway.

The Boatswain and Carpenter were fully at liberty, the former was employed on pain of death to hoist the Boats out, but the latter

I saw acting the part of an Idler with an impudent and ill looking countenance which led me to believe he was one of the Mutineers, untill he was among the rest Ordered to leave the Ship, for it appeared to me to be a doubt with Christian at first, whether he Should keep the Carpenter or his Mates, but knowing the former to be a troublesome fellow he determined on the latter. The Carpenter was then Ordered into the Boat, upon which he got his Tool Chest with little difficulty over the Side.

Much altercation took place among the Mutinous Crew during the whole business, some Swore ‘I’ll be —–d if he does not get home if he gets anything with him’ (meaning me). Others, when the Carpenters Chest was carrying away ‘—- my Eyes he will have a Vessel built in a Month,’ while others laughed at the Situation of the Boat being very deep, and not room for those that were in her. As for Christian, he seemed to be plotting instant destruction on himself and every one, for of all diabolical looking Men he exceeded every possible description.

I asked for Arms but they laughed at me and Said I was well acquainted where I was going and therefore did not want them. Four Cutlasses were however thrown into the Boat after She was veered astern.

When the Officers and Men were put into the Boat (with whom I was suffered to have no communication) they only then waited for me, and the Ships Corporal informed Christian of it, who then told me ‘Come, Captn. Bligh, your Officers and Men are now in the Boat and you must go with them. If you attempt to make the least resistance you will instantly be put to death,’ and forcing me before him, holding by the Cord that frapped my hands behind my back a Bayonet in his other, with a Tribe of Armed Ruffians about me I was forced over the side where they untied my hands, and being in the Boat we were veered astern by a Rope. A few peices of Pork were now thrown into us and some Cloaths, and after having undergone a great deal of ridicule we were at last cast adrift in the open Ocean. Having little or no wind we rowed pretty fast towards Tofoa, which bore NE about 10 leagues, and while the Ship was in sight she Steered to the WNW, but I consider that as a blind to me for when we came away, Huzza for Otaheite was frequently heard among the Mutineers.

Christian, the Captain of the Mutineers, is of a respectable Family in the North of England. This was the third Voyage he had made with me, and as I found it necessary to keep my Ships Company at three Watches, I gave him an Order to keep the third, his abilities being thoroughly equal to the task, and by this means my Master and Gunner were not at Watch and Watch.

Heywood is also of a respectable family in the North of England and a Young Man of Abilities as well as Christian. These two were objects of my regard and attention and with much unwearied Zeal I instructed them for they realy promised as professional Men to be an honor to their Country.

Young was a Person recommended to me by Sir George Young, Captain in the Navy. He appeared to me to be an able and Stout Seaman and therefore I took him, he however always proved a Worthless Wretch.

Stewart was a Young Man of creditable Parents in the Orkneys. He was a Seaman and bore a good Character.

Here we may observe to what a height the baseness of human Nature may arrive at, not only ingratitude in its blackest die, but eternal criminality against their Country and connections.

Bligh’s list of the crew

I had scarce got a furlong on my way when I began to reflect on the vicisitudes of human affairs; but in the midst of all I felt an inward happiness which prevented any depression of my spirits, conscious of my own integrity and anxious solicitude for the good of the Service I was on. I found my mind most wonderfully Supported, and began to conceive hopes notwithstanding so heavy a Calamity, to be able to recount to my King and Country my misfortune.

What Mans situations could be so peculiarly flattering as mine twelve hours before? I had a Ship in the most perfect order and well Stored with every necessary both for Service and Health; by early attention to those particulars I had acted against the power of Chance in case I not get through Endeavor Straights as well as against any Accident that might befall me in them, and to add to this I had very successfully got my Plants in the most flourishing and fine order, so that upon the whole the Voyage was two thirds completed and the remaining part no way doubtfull. Every person in the most perfect health, to establish what I had taken the greatest pains and bore a most anxious care the whole course of the Voyage.

It is certainly true that no effect could take place without a Cause but here it is equally certain that no cause could justify such an effect. It however may very naturally be asked what could be the reason for such a revolt, in answer to which I can only conjecture that they have Idealy assured themselves of a more happy life among the Otaheitans than they could possibly have in England, which joined to some Female connection, has most likely been the leading cause of the Whole business.

The Women are handsome, mild in their Manners and conversation, possessed of great sensibility, and have sufficient delicacy to make them admired and beloved. The Cheifs have acquired such a likeing to our People that they have rather encouraged their stay among them than otherwise, and even made promises of large possessions. Under these and many other attendant circumstances equally desireable it is therefore not to be Wondered at tho not possible to be foreseen, that a Set of Sailors led by Officers, and void of connections, or if they have any, not possessed of Natural feelings sufficient to Wish themselves never to be separated from them, should be governed by such powerfull inducements but equal to this, what a temptation it is to such Wretches when they find it in their power, however illegally it can be got at, to fix themselves in the midst of plenty in the finest Island in the World where they need not labour, and where the alurements of disipation are more than equal to any thing that can be conceived.

Desertions have happened more or less from the Ships that have been at the Society Islands, but it ever has been in the Commander’s power to make the Cheifs return their people. They therefore knew such a plan could never succeed, and perhaps suggested that never so small a Ship and so elligible an Opportunity would Offer to them again.

The Secrecy of this Mutiny is beyond all Conception, and surprizing it is that out of thirteen of the party who were sent with me and lived always forward among the People, no one could discover some symptoms of bad intentions among them. This Mutiny or design against the Ship has however been long planned if I with propriety may take the Cutting of the Cable as a beginning on the 6th Feby. for that act was certainly done by some of these People to Strand the Ship, altho at that time I naturally thought it was done by the Indians, but who it now Appears were certainly innocent. With such deep laid plans of Villany and my mind free of any Suspicions it is not wonderful I have been got the better of. But the possibility of such a Catastrophe, was ever the farthest from my thoughts. Christian was to have dined with me and Supped the preceding Evening but he desired to be excused as he found himself unwell, about which I was concerned rather than suspecting his integrity and honor.

The exact quantity of Provisions I found they had got in the Boat was 150 lbs. Bread, 16 peices of Pork, 6 Quarts of Rum, 6 Bottles of Wine with 28 Galls of Water and four Empty Breakers

Wm Bligh

And thus began one of the most famous open boat journeys in naval history. For 47 days the loyalists would sail over 4,000 miles to safety, combating the elements, hostile natives, and starvation.

The Slave Wagon and the Underground Railroad

April 27, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Videos by

New weekly video! Join us at a North Carolina plantation to see a wagon used to smuggle slaves out of the south

John Paul Jones Raids the Shores of England

April 23, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence by

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones

It was on this day in 1778 that Americans under John Paul Jones attacked Whitehaven, England, landing on Britain’s shores for the first time in the War for Independence. American naval commanders had already sailed off the shores of England, but although they had captured English ships, they had never been able to land. Jones set out to change this. He believed that it was more efficient to attack the ships in their home port rather than chasing them across the open ocean, and that to make a real difference in the course of the war he had to bring the war home to the English on their own soil.

His ship was the USS Ranger. Launched from Maine, Jones sailed her across the ocean to France, capturing British vessels along the way. Jones had hoped to sail in a larger ship, but when that plan fell through, he set out from France on April 10, 1778. Sailing into the Irish sea, he captured two small prizes and burned them. Hindered by unfavorable winds, he made his way towards Whitehaven, which he planned to attack. On the night he had prescribed the attack, when he lowered his boats the wind shifted, and he had to reembark and sail out of the port . From captured sailors he learned of a group of unprotected ships, but again the winds were against him. Hearing from fishermen that the HMS Drake was alone in port, he planned to board and capture her at night. But when she was in position she was blown away because someone neglected to lower the anchor. 

Historic Salt Mine in Whitehaven

The wind was finally favorable for a sail to Whitehaven on April, 22. At midnight, the morning of April 23, the two boats were lowered. Jones picked thirty-one men to man them. He commanded one boat and Lieutenant Samuel Wallingford of the Marines the other. The tide was running out and they made slow going, so it was dawn before they landed on the stone piers. Wallingford was sent to burn the many ships of the harbor, and Jones himself headed for the fort guarding the harbor. The sentry gave no warning and had probably fallen asleep, having no expectation of an attack. Jones was lifted over the wall, followed by the rest of the men. The fort was old and lightly manned. Completely surprised, the garrison surrendered without putting up a fight. Jones loaded the prisoners in a boat, and spiked the fort’s guns. Going on to the other, smaller fort, it also fell without resistance and it’s guns were spiked. 

Jones’s mission was complete, but when he rejoined Wallingford he was disappointed to discover that he had failed. This was before the invention of matches. Fires could be lit with flint and steel, but that was a time consuming process, so the normal procedure was to light one flame from another. But Wallingford’s candle had gone out. In a hurry to escape the harbor before more English arrived, the Lieutenant abandoned the plan to burn the shipping. But unwilling to accept this reverse and determined to succeed, Jones improvised. Going to a house in the town he obtained a light, and fired one of the ships. 

As the flames roared higher, the town’s inhabitants flocked down to the piers, watching their ships burned. Ordering his men to the boats, Jones brandished a pistol before the crowd, convincing them to beat a hasty retreat. Once he was sure the flames could not be extinguished, he jumped into the boats and headed back to the Ranger.

Ships at Whitehaven

Ships at Whitehaven

Although he had been unable to destroy all of the town’s shipping, he was able to send tremors of fear through England. They could no longer believe themselves completely safe from war, since the Americans had landed on their doorstep. Jones later wrote:

Had it been possible to have landed a few hours sooner, my success would have been complete. Not a single ship, out of more than two hundred, could possibly have escaped, and all the world would not have been able to save the town. What was done, however, is sufficient to show that not all their boasted navy can protect their own coasts; and that the scenes of distress which they have occasioned in America may be soon brought home to their own door.1

Jones would continue on to a famous career, creating one of the most famous legends of the American navy.

British caricature of Jones


1. John Paul Jones by Lewis Frank Tooker (New York: The MacMillian Company, 1916) p. 58.

“Irreligion of Our Land” in 1812

April 19, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in War for Independence, War of 1812 by

Timothy Dwight

It is frequently said today that American was founded as a Christian nation. While that was true to some extent, there were those at the time who vehemently decried the godlessness of the founding. One of these was Timothy Dwight, grandson of the great preacher Jonathan Edwards. Dwight was a preacher and president of Yale College. He said this in a sermon on a day of fasting, appointed for the declaration of the War of 1812 against Great Britain:

Notwithstanding the prevalence of Religion, … the irreligion, and the wickedness, of our land are such, as to furnish a most painful and melancholy prospect to a serious mind. We formed our Constitution without any acknowledgment of God ; without any recognition of his mercies to us, as a people, of his government, or even of his existence. The Convention, by which it was formed, never asked, even once, his direction, or his blessing upon their labours. Thus we commenced our national existence under the present system, without God. I wish I could say, that a disposition to render him the reverence, due to his great Name, and the gratitude, demanded by his innumerable mercies, had been more public, visible, uniform, and fervent.1

1. A Discourse, in Two Parts, Delivered July 23, 1812 on the Public Fast, in the Chapel of Yale College by Timothy Dwight (New Haven, Howe and Deforest, 1812) p. 46.

New Testimonials Page

April 18, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in News by


To see what people are saying about Discerning History: Causes of the Civil War, check out our new testimonials page! Don’t forget to purchase the series from our store.

The Lost 13th Amendment

April 15, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in War of 1812 by

The Amendment in the laws of Maine, published in 1825.

Since the adoption of the United States Constitution twenty-seven amendments have been passed, and thousands more have been proposed. It may seem that it would be clear what exactly is the governing document of the United States, but some people argue that there is another “lost” amendment that was passed and is really part of the Constitution today. The missing amendment would have been the 13th, and it is called the Titles of Nobility Amendment.

The early 1800s, when this amendment was proposed in Congress, was a tumultuous time in American history. The nation was unstable, as it had just been reorganized under the Constitution. There were fears of a foreign intervention, and it wouldn’t be long until the War of 1812 broke out. It was these fears that prompted Democrat-Republican Senator Philip Reed of Maryland to propose this amendment:

If any citizen of the United States shall accept, claim, receive or retain, any title of nobility or honor, or shall, without the consent of Congress, accept and retain any present, pension, office or emolument, of any kind whatever, from any person, King, Prince or foreign Power, such person shall cease to be a citizen of the United States, and shall be incapable of holding any office of trust or profit under them, or either of them.1

The Constitution already banned any member of Congress from holding another office in the government. This amendment would expand this provision to prohibit any citizen from receiving any present, office or title from a foreign nation, and would punish them by stripping them of their citizenship. The Senate voted 19-5 to pass the amendment on April 26, 1810. Just a few days later, on May 1, the House approved it 87-3.

US Senate

US Senate

As the amendment had been passed by both houses of Congress, it could move on to the next step of the process – ratification by three quarters of the states, 13 of the 17 at the time. It is here that historical interpretations diverge. Everyone agrees that it was ratified by 12 states – Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It is also clear that it was rejected by three states – New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The debate is over whether the amendment was ratified by Virginia and South Carolina. If it was approved by either of them, that would make 13 states for ratification. Both of these states took action on the amendment. The South Carolina Senate voted to ratify it on November 28, 1811, but the House of Representatives rejected it years later, on December 21, 1814. Virginia’s House of Delegates voted for it on February 2, 1811, but the Senate rejected it on February 14.

The Capitol Destroyed

The Capitol Destroyed

Although there are no records today of these states passing the amendment in both houses, rumors began to spread at the time that the necessary 13 states had ratified it. Some records that may have clarified the issue were lost because the War of 1812 had begun. In 1814 the British captured Washington, DC, burning the White House, the Library of Congress, and other government buildings. Documents relating to the status of the amendment were lost forever. The government itself became confused. In 1817, the U.S. House of Representatives asked President James Monroe to inquire into the status of the amendment’s ratification. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams investigated the matter and reported that 12 states had voted for the amendment and two against it. Letters were sent to the governors of Virginia, Connecticut and South Carolina asking about the status of the amendment in their states. In 1818 Adams reported that he received a letter from the governor of South Carolina that his state had rejected the amendment.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams

This leaves only Virginia in question, and on its response would hang the entire question of the amendment. There are no records of a passage of the amendment by the Virginia legislature, or even correspondence between the governor and Adams. It would seem that the amendment had died one state short of ratification. But then on March 10, 1819, the Virginia legislature passed an act for the printing of the state’s laws, including the Constitution of the United States. In that printing of the Constitution is the 13th amendment, which from the records had not been ratified. But Virginia wasn’t the only state to print the 13th Amendment. Many 19th century printings of the Constitution contain the contested amendment. It can even be found in a printing by the Federal government of the Laws of the United States. On the other hand, in many printings it is missing. There was clearly confusion on the issue at the time.

One of the last printings of the amendment, in the 1867 laws of Colorado

One of the last printings of the amendment, in the 1867 laws of Colorado

Some argue that Virginia’s printing of the 13th Amendment in 1819 constituted a ratification. It is likely that the amendment’s inclusion was simply a clerical mistake, and that the Virginia legislature didn’t check the document carefully to ensure it was accurate. But even if the legislators intended the printing to be a ratification, a new problem is encountered. Between the passage of the amendment by Congress and the supposed ratification by Virginia in 1819, four more states had joined the Union, increasing the number of states necessary for ratification to 16. Although the Constitution is silent as to whether states who join during the ratification process participate in the vote, they always have been counted. The votes of new states were counted even for the ratification of the first amendments, the Bill of Rights. So even if Virginia had approved the amendment in 1819, three more states would have been necessary.

Although the argument that this 13th Amendment really is missing from the Constitution does not hold up to scrutiny with the evidence available today, its ratification is still possible. No expiration date was specified when the bill was passed by Congress. If a total of 38 states ratify the amendment today, it will become part of the Constitution.

1. House Journal. 1st Cong., 1st sess., 1 May 1810, 423. (View the page cited)

Death of Sir Isaac Brock

April 12, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in War of 1812 by

Death of Issac Brock

One of the greatest battles of the War of 1812 was the Battle of Queenston Heights, in which the British forces turned back the American invasion of Canada. However this victory came the cost of their commander, Sir Issac Brock. One history of Canada recorded his death in this way:

General Brock had, as was his custom, risen before day-break; and hearing the cannonading, had summoned his aides Major Glegg and Lt.-Col. Macdonell, of the militia; and hastened towards the scene of action, arriving at the battery just as the Americans, under Captain Wool, had reached the heights in its rear. General Brock and his two officers had not time to remount, but were obliged to retire hastily with the twelve men who had been stationed in the battery, which was now immediately occupied by the enemy. Orders were now sent to Major-General Sheaffe to hasten up, from Fort George ; and also that a fire should be maintained from that point upon Fort Niagara opposite. Retiring, the British general met Captain Dennis’ party, and, placing himself at its head, advanced on foot to dislodge the Americans, who were keeping up a brisk fire of musketry. Conspicuous by his dress, his height, and the enthusiasm with which he animated his little band, General Brock furnished a ready mark for the enemy’s riflemen. He had not advanced far before he fell mortally wounded by a shot through his chest. As he fell he gave the order, “Push on, brave York Volunteers.” One of the men running to him, asked “Are you much hurt, sir?” but his only reply was, as he pressed his hand on his side, “Push on ; don’t mind me.”

Ernest Shackleton – Last Expedition

April 11, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by



World War I

When Shackleton and his men returned to England, they found that the world had fundamentally changed. When they had left civilization, World War I had just begun, but it was thought that it would be quickly over. When they returned, the world was engulfed in one of the bloodiest wars in modern history. England no longer cared for tales of courage in the Antarctic, when their sons, brothers and friends were fighting the Germans every day. Shackleton volunteered for the army, but was refused from active service because of his age and heart problems. Restless with nothing to do while the world was at war, he was finally sent back to South America as a British diplomat. He was unsuccessful in recruiting allies for the British, so he was sent to Northern Russia. He helped the British government prepare an expedition into the Arctic for military purposes, but fell sick and was unable to join in the expedition himself. With the war over, he again turned to business, and, after more failed endeavors, he went on a speaking tour and published a memoir of the Endurance expedition.

The Quest

The Quest

Last Expedition

In 1920, Shackleton began to consider going on another expedition. He was tired of endless lectures, had failed to gain fame and fortune, and was generally dissatisfied with life. He convinced an old friend, John Rowett, to fund the expedition and secured a small whaler which he named Quest. They set off in September, 1921. Many of his old crew signed on again to follow their old leader, even though some had not yet received their pay from the Endurance. The expedition had few precise goals. Plans from circumnavigating Antarctica to searching for undiscovered islands were mentioned, but the journey was really Shackleton searching for satisfaction in his life.

The Quest leaving London

The Quest leaving London

The Quest arrived at South Georgia on January 4, 1922. Shackleton’s health had been deteriorating. He was drinking heavily, his heart problems had increased, and he had probably had a heart attack on the journey from England. In the early hours of January 5th Alexander Macklin, the expedition’s doctor who had been with Shackleton on the Endurance, came in to check on him. Macklin told him he was overworking himself. Shackleton answered him, “You are always wanting me to give up things, what is it I ought to give up?” “Chiefly alcohol, Boss,” Macklin replied. Just minutes later, Shackleton had a fatal heart attack. He was only 47.

His body was sent back to England, but on the way word was received from his wife that she wished for him to be buried at South Georgia. Macklin thought it was fitting for Shackleton, writing, “I think this is as “the Boss” would have had it himself, standing lonely in an island far from civilization, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas, & in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits.” An official funeral for him was held in England, attended by the king himself.




Shackleton provides a wonderful example of leadership, heroism, and courage, and his men remembered him fondly for that. There was a saying among Shackleton’s followers and other Antarctic explorers:

For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.

Frank Worsley, Shackleton’s captain of the Endurance, wrote this of his leader on the expedition:

Shackleton’s spirits were wonderfully irrepressible considering the heartbreaking reverses he has had to put up with and the frustration of all his hopes for this year at least. One would think he had never a care on his mind & he is the life & soul of half the skylarking and fooling in the ship.

Returning to the grave of “the Boss,” Worsley wrote:

Six years later when looking at Shackleton’s grave and the cairn which we, his comrades, erected to his memory on a wind-swept hill of South Georgia, I meditated on his great deeds. It seemed to me that among all his achievements and triumphs, great as they were, his one failure was the most glorious. By self-sacrifice and throwing his own life into the balance he saved every one of his men – not a life was lost – although at times it had looked unlikely that one could be saved. His outstanding characteristics were his care of, and anxiety for, the lives and well-being of all his men.

Shackleton should be remembered for his bravery and leadership in the face of terrible odds. He should certainly be remembered for this and his virtues emulated, but there is another side to Shackleton’s life. No matter how famous he was, he still felt unfulfilled. He died dissatisfied with his life, searching for something he could never find. Shackleton was one of those men fitly described by Robert Service (one of Shackleton’s favorite poets), in The Men That Don’t Fit In:


Robert Service

Robert Service


There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

Shackleton's Grave

Shackleton’s Grave

Ernest Shackleton – The Boat Journey

April 11, 2013 with 4 Comments and Posted in Exploration by

On Elephant Island

On Elephant Island

When Shackleton and his men finally arrived at Elephant Island, they were finally back on dry ground, but their position was still far from safe. Elephant Island was little more than a mountain rising out of the sea. There was no vegetation and only a small spit of land was fit for camping. It did have fresh water and seals and penguins for food, but there was little chance of rescue as no one knew where they were, and ships rarely stopped there. Shackleton knew that if they were to survive, they would have to save themselves. As he walked down the beach, Frank Worsley told him, “Whatever happens, we all know that you have worked superhumanly to look after us.” “My job is to get my men through all right,” he answered. “Superhuman effort isn’t worth a —- unless it achieves results.”1

The James Caird

The James Caird

Voyage to South Georgia

He decided to make for South Georgia, the small whaling station on a mountainous island where the Endurance had stopped on the voyage out. All the men could not go. Many were exhausted from their hardships in the past months, and the boats were too small to take them all. Shackleton decided that he would go with five other men, the navigator, Frank Worsley, Tom Crean from the Discovery, John Vincent and Timothy McCarthy, able seamen and McNish, a good carpenter.

They set off in the James Caird on April 24, 1916. They sailed 920 miles through the stormiest seas in the world, suffering incredible hardships. At times the sea water froze on the boat, and they had to scrape it off with their hands to keep the boat afloat. Worsley saved them with his wonderful navigation. He caught few sightings in the cloudy skies, but none the less the sighted land on May 8th, an incredible achievement. They landed two days through a high surf. It was one of the greatest boat journeys ever accomplished.

Landing at South Georgia

Landing at South Georgia

Crossing South Georgia

Although they were on dry land, there was still one more obstacle in their way. They had landed on the wrong side of the island, and it seemed impossible to sail around. They would have to make their way across the high mountains in the unexplored interior of the island. After a few days of rest, Shackleton set off with Worsley and Crean, leaving the others behind as they were not fit to travel. It took them 36 hours to cross the island without a map. Knowing that to stop and sleep would be suicide, they bravely pressed forward. All three later remembered feeling as though God himself was with them. Shackleton said, “I have no doubt that Providence guided us…I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers it seemed to me often that we were four, not three”. After a perilous descent down the mountains, they finally arrived at the whaling station, in a very different condition than when they had left so many months before.

Shackleton himself was safe, but he did not forget his stranded men. The three on the other side of the island were soon picked up, but it took months to rescue the men on South Georgia. But, always the leader, he persevered and did not rest until he had all of his men back to civilization. His expedition had gone very badly, but through his good leadership he had saved the lives of all of his crew. His leadership had won their hearts, and most would remain devoted to him for the rest of their lives.

Arrival at South Georgia

Arrival at South Georgia

1. Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure by Frank Worsley, p. 84.

First Presidential Flight – Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

April 10, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in American Other by

Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to take to the air in 1910, after he completed his time in office. He was offered a ride while examining an early Wright Flyer in St. Louis, Missouri. Although he had originally not intended to fly, he couldn’t resist the opportunity. The incident was documented in the above silent film. The first presidential flight while in office wouldn’t occur for several more decades.

Photographs of the USS Camanche

April 6, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in American, Civil War by

One of the most famous ships in American naval history is the USS Monitor, one of the first ironclads. But the Monitor was more than just a single ship. The United States built dozens of monitors on a similar pattern. One of these was the USS Camanche, and it is special in that the Library of Congress contains a series of images that document its career.

The Camanche was destined for the defense of the West Coast, but San Francisco didn’t have the infrastructure to manufacture and build the ship. So she was prefabricated in New Jersey, then taken apart and loaded aboard the Aquila and sent around Cape Horn. The Aquila completed the long voyage safely, but when she arrived in San Francisco she sank in port during the heavy storm. A salvage crew was sent out from the east, and they were able to re float the Aquila. The parts for the Camanche were also retrieved, making her perhaps the only ship to sink and be salvaged before she was even begun.

The Deck

The Deck

Turret Engines

Engines to control the rotation of the turret

Laying the Deck Armour

Laying the Deck Armour

The Ship's Propeller

The Ship’s Propeller

The Ram

The Ram

The Camanche was reassembled in San Francisco, California. She was launched on November 14th, 1865, and commissioned May, 1865. However, by this time the Civil War was over, and immediate naval threats to the West Coast were gone. Nonetheless, the ironclad would remain in the area, decommissioned, for several decades. She returned to active service in 1896 to serve as a training ship for the California militia. In 1898 she was reactivated for a short time during the Spanish-American War, but she saw no service. She was sold on March 22,1899. Her fate is unknown, though photographs probably show her in San Francisco in 1902.

Launch of the Monitor

Launch of the Monitor

The Camanche in Port in San Francisco

The Camanche in Port in San Francisco

USS Camanche at the Navy Yard

USS Camanche at the Navy Yard

You can read more about the ship’s career in this article.

CSS Alabama – Confederate Raider

April 4, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Videos, Weekly Video by

The story of the CSS Alabama – the famous Confederate raider that wreaked havoc on the commerce of the north. Follow her to her final battle, a dramatic encounter with the USS Kearsarge.