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.




Portrait of Ernest Henry 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.




Antarctic Expeditions


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; see [Arctic Circle] for discussion.)



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.







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 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.



Ernest Shackleton's hut Antarctica - endangered monument


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.




Portrait of 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.

No, because they were on the uninhabited side of the island. To get to the whaling stations for help, someone had to cross the unmapped island to the other side. This would mean climbing high mountains that had never been crossed before.

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.




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




  • Works by Shackleton


    • The Heart of the Antarctic: The Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907 -1909 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Collins) ISBN 1903464285

    • Shackleton: The Polar Journeys: Incorporating the "Heart of the Antarctic" and "South" by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Collins, 2002) ISBN 1903464269

    • South: Journals of His Last Expedition to Antarctica by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Robson Books, 1999) ISBN 1861052790

    • South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Ebury Press, 1991) ISBN 0712639276

    • Endurance: Shackletons Incredible Voyage by Ernest Henry, Sir Shackleton, Christopher Ralling (Peter Bedrick Books, 1986) ISBN 0872260828

    • Aurora Australis by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Paradigm Press, 1986) ISBN 0948285079

    • South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Heinemann, 1970) ISBN 0434695009

  • Biographies and histories


    • Polar Castaways: The Ross Sea Party Of Sir Ernest Shackleton, 1914-17 by Richard McElrea (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004) ISBN 0773528253

    • Shackleton by Roland Huntford. 2nd edition 1996, Abacus History, London. 774pp ISBN 0349107440

    • Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition: The Voyage of the Nimrod by Beau Riffenburgh (Bloomsbury USA, 2004) ISBN 1582344884

    • South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 by Frank Hurley (Simon & Schuster, 2001) ISBN 074322292X

    • Shackleton's Forgotten Men: The Untold Tale of an Antarctic Tragedy by Lennard Bickel, Rt. Hon. Lord Shackleton (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000) ISBN 1560252561

    • Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N. T. Perkins, Margaret P. Holtman, Paul R. Kessler, Catherine McCarthy (American Management Association, 2000) ISBN 0814405436

    • The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander (Knopf, 1998) ISBN 0375404031

  • DVDs


    • Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time Kenneth Branagh (A&E Home Video, 2002) ISBN B000063TON

    • The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition Liam Neeson (Columbia Tristar, 2000) ISBN B0000A7W16








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