The Shackleton – Rowett Expedition departs England.
September 24th 1921.The Shackleton – Rowett Expedition left England, aboard the ship Quest on September 24th 1921. Sir Ernest Shackleton had originally intended a trip north to explore Arctic regions, the unexplored Beaufort Sea area in particular, and had received initial interest from Canadian authorities. However with a change of government in 1921, and its policy towards the funding of expeditions it soon became clear that there would be no financial backing from Canada.
Shackleton turned his attentions yet again to Antarctica. He had secured some funds from a former school friend, John Quiller Rowett, with which he had obtained a 125 ton Norwegian sealer, the Foca 1, which he newly named Quest. With a change of destination, Shackleton outlined the ambition of his voyage south as being an “oceanographic and sub-antarctic expedition.”
While the expedition appeared to lack a clear and obvious goal, it did not fall short of intention. The itinerary included circumnavigating the Antarctic continent, mapping uncharted coastline, searching for lost or wrongly charted islands, subsequent searches for mineral resources and an extensive scientific research program.
Rescue From Elephant Island.
The Endurance Expedition.
August the 30th 1916 would have dawned no different than any of the previous 127 days, for the 22 men stranded on Elephant Island, since their six comrades had departed the outcrop aboard the James Caird lifeboat, on a mission to raise rescue for them on April 24th 1916. As they had watched the tiny vessel disappear over the horizon into the monstrous Weddell Sea, Frank Wild optimistically opined that they would all be saved within four or five weeks.
But four long months had passed, and despite a daily rostered watch to keep lookout for an approaching ship, the castaways hopes had almost entirely diminished. It was all too probable that the Caird had been enveloped in the fearsome Southern Ocean, and the six brave crew had perished long before they had reached land. And no-one would know of the men on Elephant Island, and no-one was coming to rescue them either.
And as their hopes had dwindled, so too had their spirit, health, sanity and food supplies. Frank Wild, who had been given the unenviable task of commanding the group in Shackleton’s absence, had forbidden the stockpiling of seals and penguins, at a time when they were in plentiful abundance, as he deemed it a defeatist gesture. Now that the ice was closing in and encasing the island, the creatures had practically disappeared, and the group faced up to the very real threat of starvation. The ever fractious Thomas Order-Lees had noted “We shall have to eat the one who dies first …. there’s many a true word said in jest”* Continue Reading →
The Death of Captain Lawrence Oates.
Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica, March 17th, 1912.
“Tragedy all along the line..”
“We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
Antarctica’s ferocious elements, enveloped the tiny camp – a solitary anomaly on the vast white landscape, of the once named Great Ice Barrier. Within the tent, huddled four men, in desperate condition and circumstance, but none more so than Lawrence Oates. None yet, as it would inevitably transpire. Tragedy was stalking all of them, and they sensed it tangibly.
Outside in the white scree noise, of the frigid weather that churned around them, it was -40º C, at midday, and they were cold to their very bones. On reaching the previous two depots the weary group had discovered that the cached oil had evaporated, and so too had dissipated their hopes of survival. Any notion that a dog team would meet the returning party, would never materialize. They were on their own.
March 17th, 1912, was Lawrence Oates’ 32nd birthday, and was the day he would walk from the tent of the doomed Polar Party, and into the annals of Antarctic heroes. “I am just going outside and may be some time”, his parting words, before disappearing into the raging blizzard. Gone. Lost forever in a desert of endless ice, that would never yield him back. His final thoughts were of his Mother, Scott had recorded. That curious maternal haunting that afflicts men, who have been afforded that moment in time, to realize that they are going to die. The mortally wounded soldiers of countless battlefields, have expelled their final breath, desperately calling for the comfort of their mothers cradling presence.
But Oates was calm and reflecting. His mother had always been the dominant character in his life, and she simply adored her Lawrie. Resigned to the fact that he was going to die, Oates would have wanted her to know, that he was thinking of her.
The Voyage Of The James Caird.
April 24th – May 10th, 1916.
Tomorrow we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the James Caird reaching South Georgia, after a titanic 16 day, 800 mile journey, across the most volatile ocean on earth.
So slim were the chances of survival for the six man crew, as they left Elephant Island on April 24th 1916, that to all intents and purposes, it was their coffin that they dragged down the stony, perished beach, climbed aboard, and cast into the Weddell Sea.
The Weddell is a heaving, wind lashed, torturous monster, and the conditions the men endured, were simply horrific.
That they would emerge from a hurricane, 800 miles and 16 days later, and reach the rugged shores of South Georgia, is almost beyond comprehension.
But they did.
Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Worsley, Timothy McCarthy, Harry McNish and John Vincent – Remember them!
The Endurance Expedition.
The Voyage Of The James Caird.
Even 100 years on from the epic boat journey, that was the voyage of the James Caird, it remains difficult to fully comprehend or appreciate, the enormity of the achievement of the six man crew.
Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley, Tom Crean, Timothy McCarty, Harry McNish and John Vincent spent 17 gruelling days in the modified lifeboat, traversing one of the most violent stretches of ocean on the planet. That they would somehow conspire to complete the feat, is without doubt one of, if not the single most greatest feat of open boat navigation, ever undertaken, and it was an act of sheer fortitude, brilliance, courage, endurance and pure seamanship that seldom gets the recognition or acclaim that it surely merits.
Below we remember the men of the Caird, in their own words. Lest we forget.
Captain Lawrence Oates.
A Brief Video Biography.
On March 17th 1912, the day of his 32nd birthday, Lawrence Oates walked to his death, from the tent of the returning Polar Party, and into the realm of Antarctic heroes. Oates was among a group of five men, who were on their return march from the South Pole, which they had reached on January 17th 1912. Led by Captain Scott, the group had discovered, to their dismay, that Roald Amundsen‘s Norwegian team, had been to the pole before them.
Defeated they turned for home, and their journey gradually descended into a desperate battle for survival. Edgar Evans died at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier on February 17th, and one month later, Lawrence Oates also met his untimely demise. Oates took matters into his own hands and gallantly walked to his death, deeming his afflicted presence a burden upon the survival chances of his comrades. Continue Reading →
The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
It is 101 years to the day, since Frank Hurley took this iconic photograph of the Irish explorer Tom Crean, during the Endurance Expedition. The setting for the powerful image was on the drifting ice floes of the Weddell Sea, where Crean, Hurley and the crew of Shackleton’s Endurance, had found themselves ensnared. It is, above all other photographs of Tom Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, unwavering courage and indomitable character.
Despite the unfavourable prospects of their situation, Crean fixes the camera with a stare of steely determination, yet somehow manages to exude the altruistic side of his aspect, that made him such a popular character with all who endeavoured with him. Continue Reading →
February 4th 1902
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climbed aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable, even at that height was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
Scott, Shackleton and Wilson return to Discovery
Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904
On February 3rd 1903, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson made it back to their ship Discovery, after their arduous Southern march, which had commenced on November 2nd 1902. The objective had been, according to Wilson’s Diary “to get as far south in a straight line on the Barrier ice as we can, reach the Pole if possible, or find some new land”, but it is safe to suggest it was never really likely that the Pole would be attained on this particular excursion. The men lacked the skill and experience required with dogs, and indeed the ice, and from the offset progress was slow, and planning poor.
Memorial Cross Raised On Observation Hill
Terra Nova Expedition
On January 22nd 1913 Tom Crean, and the rest of the expedition team raised a memorial cross in honour of the Polar Party, all of whom had died on their return march from the South Pole. The cross was placed on the summit of Observation Hill, which is 754 ft high and looks out across the Ross Ice Shelf where the men perished.
Prior to this Tom Crean was also part of the search party that had located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent on November 12, 1912. The team had no choice but to bury them where they lay, and they erected a cairn of snow over the tent, after the removal of journals, photographic film and other materials.
The Endurance Trapped
Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
On the 5th of December 1914 the Endurance slipped from the rugged shores of South Georgia, its destination Antarctica, and the goal, a trans-continental march, via the South Pole, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.
Before departure Shackleton had been warned by the Norwegians that manned the whaling stations on the island, that the ice in the Weddell Sea was more abundant and further north than they had ever before seen.