|Ernest Shackleton was a superb leader of men. Born in Ballytore
Co. Kildare in 1874 to a Quaker family, the young Ernest joined the merchant
Navy and worked his way up through the ranks. Shackleton's first experience
of the Antarctic was in 1902 as a member of Scott's 'Discovery' Expedition,
when he first met his fellow countryman Tom Crean. Shackleton returned to
Antarctica in 1907 with his own expedition when he got within 97 miles of
the Pole, 360 miles closer than anyone previously.
After Amundsen reached the pole, Shackleton was determined to be the first to cross the continent and returned in 1914 with the ill-fated Endurance and an epic escape to South Georgia. Shackleton could not get the Antarctic out of his blood and returned once more in 1922 but only made it to South Georgia, where he died and is buried.
Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic Expeditions are legendary. He had been a member of the southern party on Scott's first Antarctic expedition (Discovery 1901-03). Rivalry between the two grew later, in the race for the South Pole. First Shackleton (Nimrod, 1907-09) manhauled to within 100 miles from the Pole, the furthest south, before turning back to get back safely (just). Then Scott (Terra Nova 1910-13) did reach the pole manhauling, but found Amundsen had beaten him using dogs: on the return journey Scott's 5-man party all died, only a few miles from their food depot. After that, Shackleton turned his attention to an attempt to cross the Antarctic Continent.
Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in Endurance, 1914-1916. On 5 December 1914 Shackleton's ship Endurance sailed south from South Georgia with 28 men on board, heading into the unknown. In January 1915, far south in the Weddell Sea, Endurance was beset in the pack-ice. She drifted slowly north for 10 months through the Winter night, until Spring came, but she was crushed in October. They camped on the ice, and salvaged what they could over the next month, but Endurance finally sank on 21 November 1915. Shackleton's men camped on the ice, after vainly trying to manhaul the boats north. Five months later, their drifting camp reached the fringe of the pack, and on 9 April 1916 they took to their three little open boats. Rowing and sailing through loose pack, with bad weather, and temperatures 10-30 below freezing, they fought for a week, and finally landed on the precipitous northeastern tip of Elephant Island, deliriously happy to reach land after 16 months. But the tiny beach under the cliffs at Cape Valentine was unsafe, and already the next day they sailed to find a safer beach some hours west.
They decked over their largest boat (the 22ft James Caird, named after their principle sponsor) and on 24 April, Shackleton with 4 others sailed her for South Georgia, to seek help. Winter had begun, and the 800 mile journey through the roughest ocean in the world took 16 days. They found South Georgia in a storm, and had to land on the "wrong" side of that mountainous, icy island. With a carpenters adze for an ice-axe, Shackleton, Worsley 8c Crean made the first crossing of South Georgia, in 30 hours, without sleep. They walked into the whaling station at Stromness early on 20 May 1916. With no word since 1914, the world had long ago assumed them all dead, and the Norwegian whalers thought they were ghosts walking off the mountain.
The 22 men left on Elephant Island lived through the winter, under the two smaller boats at Point Wild, named after their leader, Frank Wild. At his fourth attempt Shackleton finally rescued them on 30 August 1916, in the Chilean ship Yelcho. They greeted him shouting: "All safe! All well!". The whole expedition was one of the greatest epics of courage and endurance. Not one of Shackleton's 28 men had been lost.
The Shackleton-Rowett Expedition In guest, 1921-1922. Shackleton soon grew restless again, and set up another Antarctic Expedition in a sealer, the "gallant little" Quest. He arranged with Lord Northcliffe, for the Daily Mail to run a nationwide competition among Scouts. 1700 applied to go, Baden Powell shortlisted 10 for interview, and Shackleton selected two, including Scout James Marr, aged 18, an undergraduate zoologist from Aberdeen. However it was to be Ernest Shackleton's last expedition. On the night the Quest arrived at South Georgia, the Boss died of a heart attack. His team buried him there, near Grytviken, where his cross looks out over Cumberland Bay. Frank Wild took over, and sailed south into the Weddell Sea, then revisited Elephant Island, landing at Minstrel Bay, and at Cape Lookout, where they named Rowett Island, after John Quiller Rowett, the expedition's main sponsor.