On Thursday 7 June at 7.30pm, at Andsell Library, Lytham, I will giving my popular illustrated presentation on my hero, Shackleton, and his disastrous expedition. It is a fascinating subject.
On 8 August 1914, Shackleton and his men left the UK on board the Endurance for the Antarctic. The expedition team’s objective was to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent, starting on the Weddell Sea coast, visiting the Pole and finishing on the Ross Sea coast. The Endurance was never to return.
In January 1915, just 80 miles or one good day’s sailing from their landing point, the ship was immobilised by the ice. Despite many sterling efforts to cut themselves free of the ice the ship and her crew were frozen in for the coming winter. The World was not expecting to hear from Shackleton’s party for two years, nobody knew their plight or whereabouts and a world war was raging. There was no prospect of rescue.
The Antarctic winter was to prove too much for the wooden ship and the pressure of the surrounding ice was such that she was lifted bodily out of the water. Unable to withstand the relentless pressure of the ice, the ship was abandoned on 27 October 1915 and was crushed soon afterwards. The men were now marooned on the ice, 210 miles from the nearest land and 1,200 miles from the nearest human habitation.
For five months Shackleton and his men were stranded on the pack ice, but finally, on 9 April 1916, their ice floe broke up and the party found themselves surrounded by open water. They took to three rescued lifeboats and headed for land. Fifteen months after first being trapped in the ice, they were now free.
For seven days the men rowed across the open sea in their quest for a landfall and eventually reached Elephant Island, the men’s first opportunity in 497 days to step onto dry land. Even so, the island offered no shelter and was off the main routes of the whaling vessels. With no hope of rescue, Shackleton responded by setting off with five others in the lifeboat, James Caird, to cross 800 miles of the South Atlantic in winter and to seek help from the whaling station in Grytviken, South Georgia.
The voyage took them through 80mph winds and 60 foot high Cape Horn rollers. After surviving sixteen days at sea, including ten days of gales and a hurricane, they were forced onto the south coast of South Georgia, but this was the wrong coast for the whaling stations in the north. Accordingly, Shackleton and two volunteers set out on the perilous journey through uncharted mountains and crevasses to cross the 10,000 feet-high snow-capped mountains to reach Stromness overland.
After 36 hours of hard marching and several scrapes, they walked into Stromness to sound the alarm, seventeen months since leaving South Georgia. It was to take another 3½ months before the Chilean Navy rescued the men marooned on Elephant island. To Shackleton’s intense relief, every single member of the marooned party was still alive.
So, finally, ended an epic tale of endurance and outstanding leadership.