Sir Ernest Shackleton's "wonderful journey" set out with these intentions:
collecting valuable scientific information, and re-establishing Britain's exploring
glory, as Shackleton, a native Irishman, explained in South, his memoir of the
Sir Ernest Shackleton, Endurance expedition
leader, from his memoir South: After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen,
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.
Modern polar explorer Will Steger has read and reread Shackleton's books and
Steger: Shackleton definitely was the
man at the early century to traverse Antarctica if there was anyone that could
do it. History, I think, forgets that Shackleton got within 90 miles of the South
Pole five or six years before Scott perished. He actually traveled with some of
the men on the same expedition on the Endurance. So, he was, as an organizer as
a person that could get the funds together and lead an expedition and draw the
respect from his men, he was really the person of that era.
For a man who excelled at adventure and at organizing big projects, but found
ordinary life difficult to handle, Ernest Shackleton was born into the ideal age.
The beginning of the twentieth century was a heyday of polar exploration. Amundsen
took a boat through the almost mythical Northwest Passage, Peary and Cook raced
for the North Pole, and Amundsen, again, and Scott raced for the South. It wasn't
easy, but you could be an explorer simply by making it to an unknown place. You
didn't have to make your goal under some permutation of hardship to make it into
the record books. In these years before cruise-ship tours to Antarctica, man was
still testing his limits against the natural world. And explorers were the astronauts
of the era.
|Sir Ernest Shackleton, Explorer
In 1922 in The Worst Journey in the World, his book about the doomed Scott
expedition, Apsley Cherry-Garrard writes about the unknown, captivating continent.
from The Worst Journey in the World:
Even now the Antarctic is to the rest of the earth as the Abode of the Gods was
to the ancient Chaldees, a precipitous and mammoth land lying far beyond the seas
which encircled men's habitation, and nothing is more striking about the exploration
of the Southern Polar regions than its absence, for when King Alfred reigned in
England the Vikings were navigating the ice-fields of the North, yet when Wellington
fought the battle of Waterloo there was still an undiscovered continent in the
Nations took pride in having their explorers be the first to the new lands,
but there were also big holes in the atlases and scientific journals of the day.
So expeditions brought along geologists, glaciologists, zoologists, biologists,
and meteorologists who were kept busy every mile of every trip. In the 1911 Encyclopaedia
Britannica, which was actually aboard the Endurance, there are pages and pages
on polar exploration, but the map of the Antarctic interior is virtually blank,
and men like Amundsen, Scott, and Shackleton longed to fill it up. Or in the words
of one of Shackleton's favorite Robert Service poems, they longed to mark "the
map's void spaces."
Shackleton got his training in the British Merchant Navy.
Shackleton shipmate Thomas Peers: Shackleton
was only a boy of 18 then. I was 20.
Thomas Peers, who served with Shackleton. When he was in his mid-80s, Peers
told the BBC the future Sir Ernest was a blend of hardworking sailor and literate
Peers: He was a lad that you could
never get at because when he wasn't on duty on deck he was stowed away in his
cabin with his books. He was full of poetry and could quote it by the yard. The
other lads used to say, "Old Shack's busy with his books. " But on duty he was
always first up the rigging before the other boys.
Generations, cultures, and miles away, polar explorer Ann Bancroft draws strength
from Shackleton every time she heads out on a new expedition. Bancroft was the
first woman to reach both the North and South Poles. When she was a child, she
read about Shackleton, and went back to his story before leading her own team
of four women in an attempt to cross the continent that thwarted Shackleton. It
thwarted her, too.
Ann Bancroft, polar explorer: You know,
I related so much to Shackleton. Obviously I had read just about everything there
is to read about polar expeditons before the Antarctic trip in '92-'93, and Shackleton
for me has not only been the catalyst for thinking about Antarctica as a young
person, but I started to reread his accounts of the Endurance expedition because
it was just his leadership qualities that I was trying to learn from.
By 1914, when Shackleton was 40 years old, he'd already been to Antarctica
twice. He went with Scott in 1901 and he led another expedition himself in 1907.
On the the first trip he was sent home with scurvy. On the second he made it to
88 degrees south, known in explorer's shorthand as Furthest South, before he had
to turn back. Shackleton turned back because even though he was less than 100
miles from the Pole, pushing on probably would have killed one or more of his
team. It was typical for him to put the safety of his men ahead of the chance
for immortality as the discoverer of the South Pole. His men might sometimes call
him Sir Ernest, but more often it was simply, and admiringly, "The Boss." Endurance
scholar Caroline Alexander says they had a saying about Sir Ernest.
Caroline Alexander, Endurance scholar:
For scientific discovery give me Scott. For speed and efficiency give me Amundsen.
But when you're in a hopeless case and disaster strikes, get down on your knees
and pray for Shackleton.
This is not to say that Shackleton was a soft touch. Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest in 1953, is another admirer. He says Shackleton could overcome appalling circumstances because he could really read his men and adapt his reaction, unlike the rigid Scott. Hillary made friends with an old sailor who served with Shackleton and Scott in 1901, and the old man told him this story:
Sir Edmund Hillary's introduction to Frank
Worsley's book Shackleton's Boat Journey: One merchant seaman in particular
was most reluctant to accept orders and was regarded as a very bad influence on
the rest of the crew. Captain Scott decided that he would have to be sent back
on the first relief vessel. To Scott's absolute astonishment the seaman refused
to be repatriated - he had signed a contract and knew his rights - he was staying
on to the end of the expedition whatever Scott might think. Then Shackleton asked
permission to deal with the problem, and calmly informed the seaman that he was
returning to Britain. The man insolently disagreed, so Shackleton, a powerful
man, stepped forward and knocked him to the deck. The man rose slowly to his feet
and Shackleton gave him his instructions once again. Somewhat more slowly and
much less arrogantly the man refused. Once again the man was flattened by a mighty
blow. When he got up this time and realised that Shackleton was prepared to carry
on the procedure indefinitely, he was happy to agree to an immediate departure.