The sun rises on Endurance after the darkness of winter.
In August 1914, explorer Ernest Shackleton boarded the Endurance and set the ship for Antarctica, intending to walk across the continent’s last uncharted territory.
The expedition attempted to be the first to reach the Antarctic continent by land. After Roald Amundsen’s South Pole expedition in 1911, this crossing remained the “one main object of Antarctic journeyings,” in Shackleton’s words.
Shackleton planned to sail to the Weddell Sea and land a shore group near Vahsel Bay before embarking on a transcontinental march to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Meanwhile, the Ross Sea party would set up camp in McMurdo Sound and lay a chain of supply depots across the Ross Ice Shelf to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier.
These depots would be critical for the survival of the transcontinental party, as the group would not be able to transport enough provisions for the entire crossing. Under Shackleton’s command, Endurance was needed for the Weddell Sea party, and Aurora, under Aeneas Mackintosh’s command, for the Ross Sea party.
Other scientific and exploratory sledding excursions were planned for groups departing from the main base and another group that would stay at the base and conduct various scientific tasks.
Ernest Shackleton, leader of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
Because he believed that “not only the people of these islands, but our kinsmen in all the countries under the Union Jack will be ready to help in carrying out the… program of exploration,” Shackleton named his new expedition the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
According to legend, Shackleton placed an ad in a London newspaper saying, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low pay, bitter cold, and extended periods of total darkness. Return is unlikely to be safe. In the case of success, honor, and recognition.” Searches for the original advertisement have been fruitless, and the tale is widely believed to be fictitious. Shackleton got over 5,000 applications for expedition places.
The crews for the two arms of the voyage were eventually reduced to 28, including William Bakewell, who joined the ship in Buenos Aires; his friend Perce Blackborow, who stowed away after his application was denied; and several last-minute appointments made to the Ross Sea party in Australia. Sir Daniel Gooch, a grandson of famous railway pioneer Daniel Gooch, was a temporary crew member.
Photographer Frank Hurley.
Shackleton selected Frank Wild, who had been with him on both the Discovery and Nimrod expeditions, as his second-in-command. Endurance Shackleton preferred John King Davis, who had commanded Aurora during the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, to captain the ship. Davis declined, believing the expedition was “doomed,” so the position went to Frank Worsley, who claimed to have applied to the expedition after learning about it in a dream.
Tom Crean, who had received the Albert Medal for saving Lieutenant Edward Evans’ life on the Terra Nova Expedition, left the Royal Navy to become Endurance’s second officer; Alfred Cheetham, another seasoned Antarctic hand, became the third officer.
Mackintosh, who led the Ross Sea expedition, and Ernest Joyce were both Nimrod survivors. Shackleton had anticipated that Aurora would be manned by a naval crew and had requested officers and men from the Admiralty but was turned down.
After pushing his case, Shackleton was assigned to Captain Thomas Orde-Lees, Superintendent of Physical Training at the Royal Marines training depot.
Endurance’s scientific crew of six included two surgeons, Alexander Macklin, and James McIlroy; a geologist, James Wordie; a biologist, Robert Clark; a physicist, Reginald W. James; and Leonard Hussey, a meteorologist who would ultimately edit Shackleton’s voyage account South. The expedition’s visual record was the task of its photographer, Frank Hurley, and its artist, George Marston.
Third Officer Alfred Cheetham adjusts the signal flags of the Endurance.
The Endurance set the ship for Antarctica on August 8th, passing through Buenos Aires and the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, where a Norwegian whaling station was located.
They landed in South Georgia on November 5, 1914. Shackleton learned a lot about the conditions between there and the Weddell Sea from the whaling captains, suggesting this was an especially heavy ice year.
The Endurance was supposed to spend only a few days collecting supplies, but instead, she stayed in South Georgia for a month to enable the ice further south to melt.
The Endurance left with a deck-load of coal and normal stores to assist with the additional load on the engines when it came to pushing through pack ice in the Weddell Sea to the Antarctic continent beyond.
Extra clothing and supplies were brought from South Georgia in case the Endurance became trapped in the Weddell Sea and could not reach the mainland first. They departed South Georgia on December 5, 1914.
The wake of Endurance as she pushes through the ice of the Weddell Sea.
Their ship, the Endurance, became trapped by ice in Vahsel Bay as it neared Antarctica. They planned to spend the winter in their ship, too far from land to try a crossing, and then attempt their mission in the spring.
After months of waiting, it becomes obvious that they will have to abandon both their ship and their plan for a delayed expedition. The ice has crushed the Endurance’s hull beyond repair, and she will submerge when the ice melts. The new goal is to return home securely.
“The ship groans and quivers; windows splinter while deck timbers gape and twist. Amid these profound and overwhelming forces, we embody helpless futility.”
On November 21st, 1915, the Endurance broke up and fell beneath the ice and waters of the Weddell Sea. Before she vanished, the men had saved as many supplies as possible, including Frank Hurley’s priceless picture archive.
The crew attempts to clear a path through the ice for Endurance.
The expedition’s 28 men were stranded on drifting pack ice hundreds of miles from land, with no ship, no way of communicating with the outside world, and restricted supplies.
Worse, the ice began to split up as the Antarctic spring began. On December 20th, Shackleton decided to abandon their camp and march westward to Paulet Island, where they believed the closest land was.
Over six months, the ice sheet has moved (at one time bringing them within sight of Antarctica, only to drift away from it), and Elephant Island is now the closest piece of land.
They set sail only 30 miles distant, confident they would arrive that day. The location is checked after a day of sailing; not only are they not close to Elephant Island, but the current has pushed them off course; they are now 60 miles from land. Elephant Island will be reached after another 7 days of rowing and sailing in open vessels.
Elephant Island is a barren, icy wasteland. Despite this, the men rejoice when they eventually arrive. They haven’t set foot on the ground in 497 days.
The plan is to endure the next winter on the island, hoping a whaling ship will pass and save them in the spring. Shackleton counts their supplies; there isn’t enough food; if they stay the winter, they will die.
Shackleton makes a last-ditch effort to save the men, taking 5 men and sailing to South Georgia Island to seek assistance. The James Caird (boat) took a party of six men on an 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) open-boat journey to South Georgia.
Shackleton was ultimately able to mount a rescue of the men who were waiting on Elephant Island. It took three months and several attempts to rescue the remaining 22 men on Elephant Island, but he eventually reached them on August 30, 1916. They were all still living and well.
“Shackleton’s spirits were wonderfully irrepressible considering the heartbreaking reverses he has had to put up with and the frustration of all his hopes for this year at least. One would think he had never a care on his mind & he is the life & soul of half the skylarking and fooling in the ship.”
Shackleton’s initial twenty-eight men were not lost. Even though the Endurance was lost to the sea ice, the James Caird open-boat was brought back to England and is now housed in Dulwich College London, a living reminder of a remarkable act of bravery during the heroic era of exploration.
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John Vincent, the Boatswain, mends a net on the Endurance.
The icebound Endurance.
The crew takes the dogs out onto the ice.
Physicist Reginald James outside his observatory.
Photographer Frank Hurley gets a high-angle shot.
Frank Worsley, captain of The Endurance.
Navigating Officer Hubert Hudson with Emperor penguin chicks.
Second Officer Tom Crean with sled dog puppies.
Charles Green, the cook, skins a penguin for dinner.
Frank Wild, second in command.
Lionel Greenstreet, first officer.
Evening amusements in “The RItz” aboard the Endurance.
A haircutting tournament aboard the Endurance.
The rigging of the Endurance, coated in rime.
The Endurance at sunrise.
Crew plays games and musical instruments to pass the time.
The crew plays soccer on the ice near Endurance.
Endurance at night, illuminated by a flashlight.
A Saturday evening toast to “sweethearts and wives.”
Biologist Robert Clark and geologist James Wordie in their cabin.
Crew retrieve fresh ice to use for water.
Owd Bob, sled dog.
Lupoid, sled dog.
Shackleton and Wild are among the pressure ridges in the pack ice.
Hurley and Shackleton.
“Ice flowers” form on the pack ice near Endurance.
James Wordie, Alfred Cheetham and Alexander Macklin scrub the floors of the “The Ritz” aboard Endurance.
George Marston, artist.
Endurance lists as she is squeezed by shifting ice.
Frank Wild, Second in Command, contemplates the wreck of the Endurance.
Dog teams search for a way to land across the ice.
Crew members haul one of the lifeboats across the ice after the loss of Endurance.
The beach on Elephant Island where the expedition made its camp.
The James Caird is launched from Elephant Island on a mission to reach South Georgia Island.
Crew wave farewell as the James Caird sets off for South Georgia Island in search of rescue.
The Elephant Island party. Back row: Greenstreet, McIlroy, Marston, Wordie, James, Holness, Hudson, Stephenson, McLeod, Clark, Orde-Lees, Kerr, Macklin
Front row: Green, Wild, How, Cheetham, Hussey, Rickinson, Bakewell.
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