Culture Heritage Learning

Shackleton & Endurance

17th May 2016 by Scran | 0 comments


Chart of South Polar Regions © Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Sir Ernest Shackleton, British explorer, is best known for his Antarctic expeditions, particularly his trip on the ‘Endurance’.

He famously underwent a gruelling journey to rescue his crew after his ship was crushed in the ice in the Weddell Sea in October 1915. Shackleton had had significant polar exploration experience and was respected in the field. He had been the Secretary of the RSGS Royal Scottish Geographical Society when the ‘Scotia’ succeeded on the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in 1904.



In 1916, South Georgia was where Shackleton eventually found help after the ‘Endurance’ had been crushed. He led his party some 180 miles to the safety of Elephant Island, and from there he made an 800 mile long voyage in a small lifeboat with five companions. The men then had to cross from one side of the South Georgia island to the other, across the mountain range before finally walking into Stromness on May 20th 1916.


Ernest Shackleton’s Arrival © Shetland Museum & Archives.

It was a most remarkable feat, in truly terrible conditions, and of the 28 crew members not one man lost his life. Shackleton arrived at Stromness, accompanied by Frank Worsley and Tom Crean after an epic trek of 30 miles from King Haakon Bay – where they had left three comrades with the lifeboat ‘James Caird’. It was their first contact with the outside world for seventeen months.


Shackleton’s Gravestone © Shetland Museum & Archives

On his final expedition aboard the ‘Quest’, Shackleton subsequently died on South Georgia on 5th January 1922. His body was buried in a whalers’ cemetery there, at Grytviken. For years a rough cross marked the grave, and a carved gravestone was later put up. On the back of the gravestone is a quote from the poem ‘The Statue and the Bust’ by Robert Browning, I hold that man should strive to the uttermost, for his life’s set prize.

At the top of the stone is a nine pointed star; supposedly this was Shackleton’s own particular symbol throughout his lifetime. He was quite a superstitious man, and noted that the figure 9 recurred strangely in his life. He adopted the nine pointed star as his particular emblem, and had a silver figure 9 made, which he fastened to the door of his cabin on the ‘Quest’.


Adelie Penguins, South Georgia © Shetland Museum & Archives

South Georgia is an island near Antarctica where several whaling stations were based from the 1900s to the 1960s. Thousands of men worked at the Antarctic whaling during the summer season, and each whaling station became its own little community. The conditions were harsh though, even in summer time. The island is rugged and barren with glacier covered mountains. The near proximity of Antarctica, and the permanent ice-field of the Weddell Sea keeps the temperatures permanently low, the annual mean is only a degree or two above freezing. The prevailing westerly winds are strong and steady.

Images © Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Shetland Museum & Archives Licensor Scran