The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).
“Tom Crean’s role in the escape from the ice, is unique in that he was the only member of the Endurance Expedition to take part in every aspect of it.”
The term ‘challenge’ is without doubt a gross understatement, if used in the context of the unbelievable survival story, that was the Endurance Expedition. Odyssey probably is too. Yet after much research, I settled on it, as perhaps the most suitable of existing words, to somehow convey the magnitude of what the men of the sunken ship Endurance, undertook in the wake of it’s loss.
Being trapped in the ice of the notorious Weddell Sea, in February 1915, was not a cause for huge concern, despite the unseasonableness of it’s occurrence. The ship being pulverised and eventually sunk, by the immense pressures of the ice floes, however, was!
Endurance, snapping and shattering, in it’s frigid white vice, was abandoned on October 27th 1915. The wreckage remained abob, awhile, until finally slipping below the surface, on November 21st.
The enormity of their predicament had of course registered with the group, long before the precipitation of the ship’s timbers, to the fathomless depths below.
All that separated them from an identical fate, was the very ice they stood upon. Ocean Camp, established within plundering distance of their shattered ship, had been their first settlement on the drifting floes.
Twenty eight men, a pack of dogs, one cat, stock, store and lifeboats, drifting helplessly in the southern ocean, on an immeasurable sheet of ice. They had made attempts to march westwards across the ice, hauling their provisions in two of the lifeboats. It was back breaking work, that yielded little distance. As Frank Hurley had noted, there was scarcely a square yard of flat ice. The conditions underfoot were in fact atrocious. The men sank in soft snow and the icy surface was a series of hummocks and pressure ridges.
The plan had been to strike for Paulet Island, Robertson Island or Snow Hill Island, all of which lay over 300 miles away. After a week of heavy exertion, which had seen the group cover a distance of only seven miles, Shackleton aborted the operation, citing that it would take them over 300 days to complete the trek. An optimistic calculation, given that it was formulated at their initial pace, and hardly factored in the inevitable deterioration of the participants over the course.
The Escape From the Ice.
“There were twenty-eight men on our floating cake of ice, which was steadily dwindling under the influence of wind, weather, charging floes, and heavy swell. I confess that I felt the burden of responsibility sit heavily on my shoulders; but, on the other hand, I was stimulated and cheered by the attitude of the men. Loneliness is the penalty of leadership, but the man who has to make the decisions is assisted greatly if he feels that there is no uncertainty in the minds of those who follow him, and that his orders will be carried out confidently and in expectation of success.”
― from “South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition”
The expedition ship Endurance, was snared by the ice of the Weddell Sea, in February 1915, in latitude 77º south. Over the course of more than 1,000 miles, the ship and it’s helpless crew, would drift, at the mercy of the ice sheet that held them captive. At latitude 69º south the Endurance finally yielded to the immense pressures of the crushing floes, and sank.
The twenty eight men of the expedition, had no other choice but to remain on the ice, and try to eke out an existence. Foresight on their part had ensured they had afforded themselves a future chance of survival; as they had salvaged three lifeboats from the ship, before it was pulverised.
In order to sail however, they needed leads of water, when all about them was heavy pack ice. But even in Antarctic climes, ice melts, and once it begins it can be an alarmingly rapid process.
It would take months though, before the men of the Endurance would witness this. Their first settlement on the floes was dubbed Ocean Camp. From here the first escape from the ice was planned. All of the groups supplies were loaded into two boats, which the men attempted to drag across the ice. It was backbreaking work, that ultimately proved futile, and almost caused a mutiny.
Salvation At Stromness.
The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).
“We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
One can completely understand why Sir Ernest Shackleton felt so poetic, when he stood above Stromness whaling station, with Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, on May 20th 1916. Whether the words came to him then, or in considered reflection afterwords, they tremor with the sheer magnitude of the moment.
For below the trio lay salvation. They had saved themselves. They would save their three companions, who had voyaged with them in the James Caird – McNish and Vincent, too ill to venture further, remained behind on the opposite side of the island, in the care of Timothy McCarthy. They would save their 22 comrades stranded 800 miles away on Elephant Island. And undoubtedly they had grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.
What they had overcome was simply colossus! How they had done it – unimaginable! How they conspired, endured, and overcame, to not just survive but to triumph, is quite frankly unfathomable.
And this was the moment! It was the moment the escape from the ice was over, and the rescue could begin. How glorious did the blubber drenched, whale stenched, galvanised garrison of Stromness, appear to the three men, that day? Continue Reading →
Anchor From The Aurora.
Picture Of The Day.
The Ross Sea Party had been tasked with laying the supply depots, that Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic team would avail of, having come through the Pole from the Weddell Sea. Of course this would never happen as the Endurance was held fast in the ice of the Weddell, and never even made landfall on Antarctica.
As the expeditions second ship, the Aurora sailed to the other side of the continent, through the Ross Sea, and made landfall at McMurdo Sound. They followed in the footsteps of Scott, and laid supply depots across the Ross Ice Shelf all the way to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier.
On This Day – February 2nd, 1916.
Shackleton retrieves the Stancomb Wills, lifeboat from Ocean Camp.
The Endurance Expedition (1914-1917).
The smallest of the three boats – the Stancomb Wills – salvaged from the Endurance, had been left behind when the camp was abandoned, on December 23rd 1915.
The plan then had been to haul the James Caird and Dudley Docker, lifeboats, laden with their supplies to Paulet Island, some 340 miles away.
But the surface conditions, would see them cover less than 8 miles, after seven days of back breaking labour.
Shackleton abandoned the effort on December 29th and established Patience Camp. With supplies running low, in February, he sent Macklin and Hurley, back to Ocean Camp, to retrieve whatever food, had been left behind. Continue Reading →
This is a dramatic reenactment of the epic true story of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic expedition. It’s October, 1914, and under the command of Capt. Frank Worsley, the Endurance sets sail for Antarctica. But when the ship becomes trapped in the ice and is crushed, the fate of the crew seems sealed, except for the exceptional skills of their captain. Shackleton’s Captain tells—for the first time ever—the story of this fateful expedition across Antarctica, from Worsley’s own perspective (thanks to some real-life interviews). Beautifully photographed, emotional and moving … you’ll never get in a lifeboat again. Continue Reading →
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.
The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
It is 103 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 →
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 was Antarctica, and the goal was a trans-continental march, via the South Pole, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. With the south pole conquered by both Amundsen and Scott, the last great objective was to traverse the entire continent.
Before departure from South Georgia, 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.
Public Announcement of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
On This Day – January 13th, 1914.
On this day in 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton publicly announced his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which had been in planning for quite some time. The main objective of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic continent, via the South Pole, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.
The journey would be a gruelling 1,800 mile trek, in the harshest and coldest conditions on the planet, but this did not seem to deter those who applied to be among the crew. In all, Shackleton received almost 5,000 applications, from which he picked 56 men, to sail south aboard the Endurance and the Aurora.
Tom Crean was appointed Second Officer, of the Endurance, less than a year after returning from Scott’s ill fated Terra Nova expedition.
Of the 31 men who had ventured south with Scott in 1910, only one would ever attempt to return to Antarctica, and that man was Tom Crean.
Shackleton struggled to raise the required funds for the venture but eventually he secured £24,000 from the main contributor, James Caird, £10,000 from Dudley Docker and an undisclosed but sizeable donation from Janet Stancomb-Wills. The lifeboats aboard the Endurance were later named after the three contributors, and an additional £10,000 grant from the British Government ensured that the expedition would go ahead.
In the words of the British skiing pioneer Sir Harry Brittain, Ernest Shackleton had become “a bit of a floating gent”, since his return from the Nimrod Expedition, in 1909. Shackleton had set a new farthest south record, and had stood, an agonizingly close, 97 miles from the South Pole. Unfortunately he was forced to abandon the quest for the pole, due to dwindling supplies, and both he and his three companions were very lucky to survive the return journey. Continue Reading →