It's All True - The Pictures Prove It

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Just a few days after the ship was crushed, Shackleton began one of two aborted attempts to march the men toward safety. But they had to keep the ship's three lifeboats with them and it proved impossible to drag them over the rough ice. The attempts were valiant, and before the first try Shackleton set a startling example when he ordered the men to pare down their personal belongings.

Shackleton: I tore the flyleaf out of the Bible that Queen Alexandra had given to the ship, with her own writing in it, and also the wonderful page of Job containing the verse:

Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.

Photographer Frank Hurley.
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Shackleton threw away the rest of the Bible. But sailors are known to be superstitious, and one of them retrieved and hid it, not wanting to jinx their chances of escape. One thing they did leave behind was a pile of glass. Let me explain:

If you only encountered Shackleton's adventure in Alfred Lansing's bestselling book Endurance, you're missing an important part of the story: the fact that you can see how all of it happened, from the first day at sea to the triumphant return to the real world. You can see exactly what it all looked like, because Shackleton brought along a photographer: Frank Hurley, who shot hundreds of negatives and even some movie footage of the Endurance.

The story of the Endurance is so fantastic it seems like it could only be fiction. But seeing the pictures makes you realize these were real people, this really happened. And here's what that pile of glass comes in. Historian Caroline Alexander compiled the first comprehensive book of Hurley's photographs, most of them printed from the glass negatives that were standard at that time. Alexander says that the photos exist is a miracle in itself.

The destruction of The Endurance was recorded by Hurley's camera.
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Alexander: It's one of the great photoedits, probably, in history. Frank Hurley was the Australian photographer, and when the ship went down he was resigned to losing all of his precious glass plate negatives. However, it appeared that they were going to be camped on the ice floes for some time and after a sort of period of some days he thought he would try and salvage these, actually against Shackleton's orders because Shackleton had said only the things that they needed for survival should be kept with them. And Hurley dove into his submerged darkroom, his feet held by one of the sailors as he sort of fumbled around in the water, and he came up with a cannister of his glass plate negatives. And then Shackleton saw them and relented and the two men sat down on the ice together and selected the 120 images that they would keep and guard with their lives essentially and the rest were smashed to pieces on the ice specifically so Hurley wouldn't try this stunt again.
Explorer Ann Bancroft comments on the importance of light-hearted moments like this haircutting session.
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And there they are, Blackborow with the ship's cat on his shoulder; Worsley guiding the pilot through the ice, and looking much younger than I imagined; there are the dogs - pictures especially poignant because the men would eventually be forced to shoot them - and there's the Endurance itself, dark and stately, sailing free at first, then imprisoned, then crushed into a pile of lumber. You can see it all.

All photographs by Frank Hurley unless otherwise noted

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