Posts Tagged Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton’s Ad – Men Wanted for Hazardous Journey

May 15, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

Men Wanted

An artistic rendering of the ad by John Hyatt

Many of you have probably seen the famous advertisement which, as the story goes, Ernest Shackleton ran in the newspaper to try to recruit men for his Endurance expedition:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.1

This advertisement is one of the most famous in history. It is frequently quoted as one of the best examples of copy writing, and has been quoted many times, in books covering topics all the way from Introduction to Evangelism to Web Application Defender’s Cookbook, and even printing on tee shirts.

Shackleton

Shackleton

However, the origins of the ad are very obscure. No one has actually seen the ad printed in a newspaper, though the Antarctic Circle has a $100 reward out for anyone who can find it, a reward which has not yet been claimed. They have also gathered a lot of information about the ad, the basis for much of this post.

Ad in 100 Greatest Advertisements

Ad in 100 Greatest Advertisements

One of the first books for this ad to appear in was The 100 Greatest Advertisements: 1852-1958 written by Julian Watkins in 1949. The brief accompanying text says the ad was run in London newspapers in 1900, but does not give a footnote. A brief review of Shackleton’s life will reveal that he did not sign on with Robert Scott for his first expedition until 1901, and he did not lead his own “hazardous journey” for several years. The date is clearly wrong, making far from an auspicious beginning for the truthfulness of the ad. Other biographies of Shackleton give the date as December 29, 1913, and the paper as the London Times. However, the ad does not appear in this paper. The date seems to have been confused with when Shackleton announced his Nimrod expedition in a letter to the editor:

Sir,–It has been an open secret for some time past that I have been desirous of leading another expedition to the South Polar regions.
I am glad now to be able to state that, through the generosity of a friend, I can announce that an expedition will start next year with the object of crossing the South Polar continent from sea to sea.
I have taken the liberty of calling the expedition “The Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition,” because I feel that not only the people of these islands, but our kinsmen in all the lands under the Union Jack will be willing to assist towards the carrying out of the full programme of exploration to which my comrades and myself are pledged.
Yours faithfully,
ERNEST H. SHACKLETON2

Quit You Like Men

Quit You Like Men

Although The 100 Greatest Advertisements is the book most commonly referenced in biographies of Shackleton, the ad had appeared in print before. It can be found in Quit You like Men by Carl Hopkins Elmore in 1944, five years before The 100 Greatest Advertisements was published. Elmore says:

Sir Ernest Shackleton when he was about to set out on one of his expeditions, printed a statement in the papers, to this effect: ‘Men wanted for hazardous journey to the South Pole. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.’ In speaking of it afterward he said that so overwhelming was the response to his appeal that it seemed as though all the men of Great Britain were determined to accompany him.3

This book provides no footnote for the ad. One thing should be noted – honor is not spelled in the American style, rather in the English, as “honour.” Not only was this the normal English spelling, Shackleton himself used it in his books.4 This evidence seems to show that either the quote was fabricated by Carl Elmore or one of his sources, or that it was copied in a very sloppy fashion.

The Endurance at night

The Endurance at night

Not only can no references be found to an original source, searching the Times itself leads to nothing. The months covering Shackleton’s preparations for his expeditions have been read, and the rest of the paper programmatically searched, but both methods have come up empty. It would not have even made sense for Shackleton to place an ad in the paper. There was plenty of free press coverage of his expedition, and he would already have had plenty of men to choose from. Some of the descendents of his men remember being told their ancestors responded to an ad Shackleton placed in the paper, but this was likely a recollection based on reading the ad rather than something they were actually told. Frank Worsley, one of the crew members, wrote his memoirs and did not record seeing an ad, instead he just happened upon the expedition’s offices and decided to apply. Inspiring though it may be, it seems that Shackleton’s famous ad is mostly likely a myth.

 

1. The 100 Greatest Advertisements 1852-1958: Who Wrote Them and What They Did by Julian Lewis Watkins (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1949) p. 1.
2.
Shackleton: An Irishman in Antarctica by Jonathan Shackleton (Madison, Wisconsin: Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2002) p. 137-138.
3. Quit You like Men by Carl Hopkins Elmore (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1944) p. 53.
4
. South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917 by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (Toronto, Canada: The Macmillan Company, 1920) p. xii, 144.

 

Ernest Shackleton – Last Expedition

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

Shackleton

Shackleton

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

Shackleton

Legacy

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.

Ernest Shackleton – Lost in the Ice

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

Crew of the Endurance

Crew of the Endurance

Right after returning on the Nimrod, Shackleton had declared that he was finished with exploring, and would settle down at home. But as his finances failed to improve, he determined to head south again. The south pole had already been reached, by both Amundsen and Scott, so Shackleton determined on a crossing of the entire continent. He wrote:

After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings – the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea. After hearing of the Norwegian’s success, I began to make preparations to start the last great journey, so that the first crossing of the last continent should be achieved by a British Expedition.1

He set about his fund raising, and although the public was interested in the expedition, he did not appeal to them for funds, but instead used his charm on his rich friends.

Just as the Endurance was ready to set sail in the summer of 1914, World War I was declared. The expedition which Shackleton had spent so much time and labor preparing for was in jeopardy. Willing to abandon his expedition for his duty to his country, Shackleton offered the Endurance and her crew to the Admiralty if they were needed for the war. Not knowing how large the war would become, First Lord Winston Churchill sent word for the expedition to continue. The Endurance set sail from Plymouth, England on August 8, 1914, Shackleton stayed behind to finish last minute business arrangements, and then took passage on a faster ship to catch up.

The Endurance, after stopping in Argentina for a coat of fresh paint and more supplies, left civilization for the last time on December 5, leaving the small whaling island of South Georgia, that would play an important role in the rest of Shackleton’s story. It was just two days later when ice was sighted, much further north than Shackleton had hoped. The ship maneuvered through the floes for many days, stopping and starting again whenever passages would open up. Eventually she made it deep into Weddell Sea, and although they came within reach of a landing place, Shackleton decided to push on forward hoping to make it a bit further south before landing. But on January 19 they became trapped in pack ice, within sight of the mainland.

The Endurance Trapped in the Ice

The Endurance Trapped in the Ice

On the Ice

They would remain in encircled in the ice all winter, an effort to cut their way out proving futile. Waiting was hard for Shackleton, a man of action, but he kept a bold face as leader of the expedition. The ice gripped the ship tighter and tighter through the southern winter. The ice, pinching the sides of the Endurance, caused the ship to role over on her side. On October 24, 1915, the sternpost was wrenched off, and the ship began to leak badly. Inside the ship, the grinding of the ice and creaking of the boards were terrible. It sounded like “heavy fireworks and the blasting of guns.” On October 27, Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship. The lifeboats and supplies had been removed from the ship. Shackleton knew that there was little hope a rescue. He was not expected to return from his crossing of Antarctica for sometime, and even if it was known they were lost, rescuers would have no idea where to look for him in the vast polar sea. If they were going to survive, it would be through their own hard work.

Shackleton watches the Endurance sink

Shackleton watches the Endurance sink

Shackleton planned to march across the ice as far as he could, and then embark in the lifeboats and set sail for civilization. When they began their trek on October 30, it was found to be much more difficult than they anticipated. The ice was in bad condition, and in three days they had only progressed two miles. Shackleton, realizing his plans were flawed, called a halt at what was called Ocean Camp, deciding to wait there until the ice floated closer to land or sea.

It was in these conditions that Shackleton shone. His expedition preparations were faulty. He had left woefully incomplete the preparations of the Ross Sea Party, who laid the depots on which his crew would have depended on if they had crossed the continent. But here, camped on the ice of the Wendell Sea, in terrible conditions, his leadership shone. Although in a seemingly hopeless situation, he kept up his men’s courage. With just the right mixture of familiarity and aloofness, he won almost all their hearts, while he himself struggled with impatience and a desire to be moving.

On December 23, Shackleton began another march across the ice, but he found conditions to be no better than back in October. After seven days of very hard work, dragging boats and supplies across the ice, they had made only seven and a half miles. Again they halted at Patience Camp, there to remain for the next three months. As they approached open water, Shackleton decided they would head for Elephant Island, a desolate mountain rising out of the southern sea, about 100 miles north of their position.

Arriving at Elephant Island

Arriving at Elephant Island

Elephant Island

Their journey started suddenly, for on April 8, the ice floe on which they were camped began to split. After a sleepless night spent watching the ice and hoping they would not fall into the water, they set out. They had three small life boats, the Stancomb Wills, Dudley Docker and James Caird, the largest and the one commanded directly by Shackleton. The journey through the stormy polar seas was miserable. They had little food, little water, little space, and were lashed by the icy seas. The navigation also was very difficult. It was based off of catching sightings of the sun, and working out their movements through dead reckoning. But Frank Worsley amazingly brought the boats right on course. They were reunited at Elephant Island on April 14 after having been separated the previous night in a storm. They found a landing place on the rocky coast, and the men finally landed on dry land after months on water and ice.

Although they were back on dry land, they were far from safe. Elephant Island was an inhospitable island, away from the usual path of whalers. It wouldn’t be long before Shackleton set out on another perilous boat journey to try to save his men.

The James Caird at Elephant Island

The James Caird at Elephant Island

1South by Ernest Shackleton, p. 1.

Ernest Shackleton – Nimrod Expedition

March 2, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

Shackleton

On his return to England, Shackleton was in high demand and the first of the explorers to come home. He assisted the Admiralty in the preparations of a relief ship for Scott, and was offered the command. Surprisingly, he turned down the offer. Although the chance to return to Scott as his rescuer, instead of an invalid must have been tempting, he had other things on his mind.

On April 9, 1904 he married Emily Dorman, who he had known for years. They would have three children. Ernest Shackleton would prove to be a bad husband. His lack of patience, a character fault throughout his life, would demonstrate itself here. He had many affairs, and preferred to travel the world rather than stay at home to be a husband and father.

Emily Dorman

Emily Dorman

Shackleton failed to gain lasting fame from the Discovery expedition, so he turned to other ways of gaining fame and fortune. He was impetuous and lacked patience. He wanted to get rich quick, without having to devote himself to a profession. He was, however, very persuasive and charismatic and could often pull people into his schemes. He was very similar to his brother Frank Shackleton. Frank, like Ernest, was very persuasive, and had a drive to rise in society. He was a homosexual, and strove to live by his wits in high society. But, like his brother, he was bad with money. He tried many schemes, which all proved to be failures. On July 6, 1907 it was found that the Irish Crown Jewels were missing. Frank Shackleton was a prime suspect. Although enough evidence was never found to convict Frank, he later went bankrupt, was charged with several crimes, and died in poverty under an assumed name. Ernest was a similar man in many ways, and he may have turned out the same if he had not devoted himself to Antarctica.

Ernest Shackleton went through many jobs in a short time, working at a newspaper, being elected the Secretary to the Royal Geographic Society, and forming a company to transport troops to Russia. He was found to be a good public speaker, and ran for Parliament in the election of 1906, only to be defeated with the rest of his party. Unsuccessful in his business dealings and with his finances in disarray, Shackleton decided to go back to Antarctica. As one of his friends at the Geographic Society said, “He cannot settle to sedentary work but is splendid at bustling around!”1

The Nimrod

Nimrod Expedition

Shackleton worked hard to raise money from his wealthy friends and was eventually successful – but just barely. He set off in the small ship, the Nimrod, leaving New Zealand on January 1, 1908. Shackleton’s original plan had been to use the old Discovery quarters in McMurdo Sound, but had been persuaded to promise to find another, as Scott was thinking of making another expedition and claimed a right to his old quarters. However, when Shackleton reached the inlet in the great Barrier where he planned to make his camp, he found that that section of the ice had collapsed, and had been replaced by a huge bay. He decided it was too dangerous to camp on the ice, and with the season drawing to a close and the looming prospect of being frozen in, he decided to break his promise and camp near the Discovery quarters.

After landing supplies, a party of men, not including Shackleton, made the first ascent of the nearby volcano Mount Erebus. Throughout the long, discouraging winter, Shackleton was successful in maintaining his men’s high spirits. He was what Scott was not, a natural leader. Most of the men loved him and would follow him to the end of the world.

Winter Quarters

Winter Quarters

Great Southern Journey

On October 19, 1908 Shackleton set off on the Great Southern Journey toward the South Pole, accompanied by Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams. Although he had fixed some of the mistakes that Scott had made, such keeping the men at the hut supplied with fresh meat to prevent scurvy, he still repeated some of the same mistakes. He brought ponies instead of dogs, because of the experience of the Discovery expedition. If he had talked to other explorers, like the Norwegians, he could have learned how well dogs could perform under the right drivers.

Beardmore Glacier, Discovered by Shackleton

Beardmore Glacier, Discovered by Shackleton

The four men encountered great hardships on their journey. The ponies were a failure. They were not suited as dogs were to the cold temperatures and icy surface. However, on November 26 the men passed Scott’s Furthest South, having covered the same distance in a much shorter time. The Barrier surface became more broken, and they encountered a range of high mountains rising out of the ice. They discovered and named Beardmore Glacier, and with a difficult climb, made it up the glacier onto the Polar Plateau. There were tensions between the explorers, with Frank Wild thinking that Marshall and Adams did no work at all, but Shackleton was at his best in a crisis. He remained calm, patient and cheerful. They came very close, within 97 miles of the Pole. But Shackleton knew he had to turn back. The way had been cleared for the next explorer. Doubtless Shackleton could have made it, but they would have died on the return journey, as Scott did on his next expedition. It took more courage of Shackleton to turn back nearly within sight of the pole, what had been his goal for so long. But as Shackleton told his wife, “a live donkey is better than a dead lion.”2

Adams, Wild and Marshall at their southmost position. Taken by Shackleton

Adams, Wild and Marshall at their southmost position. Taken by Shackleton

Although they had turned back in time, the return journey was still very difficult. The ponies long dead, they were man-hauling the sleds on half rations. They barely made the supply depots without starving. Shackleton was very sick, but as Adams said, “the worse he felt, the harder he pulled.”3 On January 31, Shackleton gave his morning biscuit to Wild, a gesture which meant much while nearly starving in such conditions. Wild wrote, “BY GOD I shall never forget. Thousands of pounds would not have bought that one biscuit.” Arriving back on the Barrier they made good time, helped along by a sail attached to the sled. However, 38 miles from their camp, they encountered a blizzard which confined them to the tent. Shackleton knew he had to hurry, because the ship was set to leave Antarctica on March 1, so setting off with only Wild, they marched as fast as they could. Desperate to attract the attention of the ship before it left, they even set fire to a wooden hut to make sure they reached the ship in time. When they finally arrived and set eyes on the Nimrod, Wild recorded “no happier sight ever met the eyes of man.” Soon Marshall and Adams were rescued, and the expedition set off north on their return journey to England.

On the Return Journey

On the Return Journey

Although he had not been successful in reaching the pole, Shackleton was heralded as a hero on his arrival to England. Roald Amundsen, a great explorer himself, said, “Sir Ernest Shackleton’s name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire.” He was knighted by the king, and given a medal by the Royal Geographic Society. He was a celebrity in high demand, and had a constant round of dinners, speaking engagements and parties to attend. He did not, however, receive large financial benefits. His finances were in disarray, as usual, and he still owed much money for the Nimrod expedition. He was saved for the time by a 20,000 pound grant from the government, but still neglected to pay the salaries of many of the crew. He again tried many schemes to gain quick riches, but they all failed, and he went on rounds of lecture tours to pay his family’s expenses.

South Pole Party (L to R) Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams

South Pole Party (L to R) Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams

1. Shackleton by Roland Huntford, p. 138.
2. Ibid, p. 300.
3. Shackleton’s Forgotten Expedition: The Voyage of the Nimrod, by Beau Riffenburgh, p. 252.

Ernest Shackleton – Discovery Expedition

February 22, 2013 with 1 Comment and Posted in Exploration by

Discovery

Shackleton’s life would change forever in 1900, when he heard of an expedition that was going to Antarctica. Shackleton was very ambitious, and desired to make a name for himself, so he jumped at this chance for distinction. One of Shackleton’s most notable qualities was his charm – he could convince most people to do just about anything, and in this case he put that skill to use. He had heard about the expedition from Cedric Longstaff, and was able to meet his father, a major financier of the expedition, and convince him to recommend that he be be given a place on the trip. Longstaff senior recommended Shackleton to Sir Clement Markham, who was organizing the expedition, and on February 17, 1901, Shackleton was appointed third officer on the Discovery.

Captain Robert Scott

The Discovery was captained by Robert Scott, an ambitious naval officer. This was his first expedition to Antarctica, but he would go on to become a famous explorer, dying on the return journey from the South Pole. Scott would play an important role in Shackleton’s life, but they got off to a bad start as Scott was an officer of the Royal Navy, and did not appreciate civilians being appointed to his ship.

Discovery

The Discovery set sail on July 31, 1901, arriving in Antarctica and setting up base in McMurdo Sound to stay there for the winter of 1902 (summer in the northern hemisphere.) Through the long months of close confinement, the relationship of Shackleton and Scott worsened. Shackleton, unlike Scott, was a natural leader. He was very popular with the men, and Scott may have seen him as a threat to his authority.

In the long, dark months of waiting for summer, when they could travel, the men had various pursuits. The scientists worked in the laboratories and gave lectures, and the men prepared the stores. There were also amusements to be had. Football was played on the ice, and Shackleton edited a newspaper, the South Polar Times. One thing that was neglected was training for the coming journey. Scott was not good at preparations, and did not have his men gain the experience in skis and sled dogs which they lacked. Shackleton, who was more inclined to fervent bursts of energy rather than the slow, patient, hard work, did not go out on his own to remedy the problem.

Edward Wilson

It was during the winter that Scott announced his choices for companions on the push for the south pole. He chose Dr. Edward Wilson and Shackleton, although tensions were high between them. The group that set off on November 2, 1902, was largely unprepared. They lacked necessary skills in dogs and skiing that would have made traveling much easier. As one historian has said, “where life might depend on technique, these men were but beginners.”1

Traveling across the Barrier, which was later found to be an ice sheet jutting many miles from land out to sea, they made relatively slow progress. However, on November 11 they passed the previous Furthest South set by Borchgrevink a few years before. For there on they were traveling in unknown land. Their support parties turned back on November 15, and the three men began relaying because they had too much supplies and equipment to haul in one load. The dogs were not much help, for although they could be tremendously useful if treated properly, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson were ignorant in dog driving. The rations for the dogs were also wrong, and so they had to kill them, one by one, as they fell too sick to work.

Discovery

Shackleton, Scott and Wilson (L to R)

As the men pushed forward across the cold and lonely expanse of ice, it quickly became apparent that the pole was out of reach. They were falling sick from scurvy, a deficiency of Vitamin C. Humans do not produce the vitamin, and have to get it from fresh food. Its onset is slow because we have large reserves in our bodies, and the horrible symptoms quickly fade when fresh food is restored. It was not known at the time what caused the disease. In previous decades it had been known that lemon juice would prevent the disease, which was a standard requirement on British ships, but the knowledge had been lost when the navy switched to lime juice which contained less Vitamin C. The symptoms of scurvy that the explorers suffered were horrible.

Shackleton, Scott and Wilson Sledging

Although he did not like to admit it, it was clear that Shackleton was the worst. He also suffered from a more mysterious disease, a trouble with his heart. Throughout his life he was very mistrustful of doctors, and would not let them examine him. He would eventually die from heart disease, and this problem, combined with the scurvy and cold, left him very sick. As they turned back on December 30th, still on the Barrier, he was still unable to pull the sledge, and at times even had to ride. He was very short of breath, and was constantly coughing. However, with an incredible will power, he continued to press on through his sickness and keep moving, helping to pull the sledge when he could. It was clear that Scott had cut their margins too close. Their food was running so low that if they encountered a bad blizzard they probably would not have made it. Under this pressure, Shackleton and Scott lost their tempers with each other. With his calm, patience and cool head, Wilson took over the real leadership of the expedition, preserving the peace between Shackleton and Scott.

Wilson, Scott and Shackleton finally reached the ship on February 4, 1903. Although they had not been able to reach the pole they had set a new record of Farthest South. The relief ship the Morning had arrived, but with the Discovery still in the ice, Scott decided to stay another year. Shackleton, however, had to go. He and Scott had quarreled, and Shackleton had fallen sick. He was returned home, an invalid, although others who were sick were allowed to stay. Shackleton never quite forgave Scott for this. He was determined to return to Antarctica and succeed where Scott had failed. He was too much of a natural leader for Scott to keep. Scott chose to blame his failures in the southern journey on Shackleton, portraying himself as a rescuer of a sick comrade.

Discovery with relief ships

1Shackleton by Roland Huntford, p. 106

Ernest Shackleton – Early Life

February 19, 2013 with No Comments and Posted in Exploration by

Sir Ernest Shackleton is one of the most famous explorers in history. He is remembered for his expedition in the Endurance from 1914 to 1917, in which his ship sunk in the ice, and he led his men back to safety through many dangers and hardships, including an amazing journey in an open boat through one of the world’s most stormy seas. He is seen as an example of courage, leadership and heroism, and was ranked as the 11th Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll. However, the story of Shackleton goes much beyond his most famous expedition, and there are many other lessons that can be learned from his life.

Shackleton was born in Ireland on February 15, 1874 to a family of English descent. He was the second of ten children, one of whom, his younger brother Frank, we will meet again in this story. The family moved to England when Ernest was 10, and he was educated at Dulwich College. He was a vivacious reader, but was bored by his studies and neglected them. Nonetheless, he ranked fifth in his class of thirty-one.

Dulwich College. Via Wikipedia

He was able to leave school at the age of 16 and go to sea. His father was not wealthy enough to get him a commission in the navy, so he went before the mast, learning sailing and working his way up as he traveled all over the world in the merchant marine. In 1894 he passed his examination to become Second Mate, and four years later he was qualified to command a ship, which he did for several years.

Shackleton’s life would change forever when he joined the Discovery expedition. Learn about that in our next blog post on Shackleton!