The Voyage Of The James Caird Begins.
The Endurance Expedition.
April 24th 1916.
“The 20-ft. boat had never looked big; she appeared to have shrunk in some mysterious way when I viewed her in the light of our new undertaking.”
Ernest Shackleton on viewing the James Caird prior to the voyage.
The 28 men of the Endurance were stranded on Elephant Island, having reached the desolate outcrop on April 16th, after an utterly gruelling seven day voyage. They had sailed there in three lifeboats, salvaged from the expedition ship, before it was crushed and sunk, by the ice floes that had held it captive for months.
While it was a welcome relief for the crew to be back on land, after surviving on the drifting floes, since abandoning the ship on October 27th 1915, their survival chances were still very slim.
Elephant Island is a 29 mile long, fog shrouded, ice covered mountain, that supports virtually no vegetation, and was not remotely near any shipping lanes, which meant there was no hope of rescue from passing vessels. On examining their supplies, Shackleton estimated that they had approximately five weeks food, which could possibly be stretched to three months, at half rations. There was always the contingency of supplementing the stock with seals and sea elephants, but they appeared to have deserted the beach as soon as the men arrived.
The Voyage To Cape Wild
The Endurance Expedition
“Wild was to proceed westwards along the coast and was to take with him four of the fittest men, Marston, Crean, Vincent, and McCarthy.” *
Having finally reached Elephant Island, with the abject crew of the Endurance, after a deplorable seven day journey in three lifeboats, Ernest Shackleton now had to consider, putting his men to sea again. The sanctuary of the pebble beach they had camped upon was simply not safe enough for a long term stay, as evidence of high tides was clearly visible, and the area offered little in the way of shelter from either the weather or indeed the sea.
Shackleton decided that Frank Wild should explore the coastline of the island in the Stancomb Wills, and endeavour to find a more suitable site, where a long term camp could be established. Wild took with him Tom Crean, Marston, Vincent and McCarthy as they were the strongest and fittest of the bedraggled party, and headed westwards in the tiny lifeboat. Shackleton and Hurley ventured west too, on foot, in an effort to find a suitable haven, should the efforts of the men on the Wills prove unsuccessful.
After three hours of futile searching, Shackleton and Hurley turned back for camp. Not long after their return, the decision to seek out a new station, was entirely justified as the incoming tide began to encroach further up the beach, and soon forced the group to move the entire camp.
The men who had been resting, as well as repairing and drying their clothing, were soon labouring to move the boats and their supplies to higher ground, which brought them nearer to the overhanging cliffs. When Wild and his crew arrived back in the Wills, they reported that they had found a 200 yard long sandy stretch, that could serve the purpose of establishing camp, and it was seven miles west of their current position. Where the sandy spit ended, it was backed up with a long snowy slope, that offered more possibilities than the rocky cliffs that were currently abaft of them. Aside from this they could find no other suitable area that could be used – “Beyond, to the west and south-west, lay a frowning line of cliffs and glaciers, sheer to the water’s edge.” **
Shackleton’s Lifeboats Make Landfall On Elephant Island
The Endurance Expedition
On April 9th 1916, the ice floe that Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance, had established Patience Camp upon, had begun to break up beneath their feet, and forced them into a rather hasty evacuation. The men had previously managed to salvage three lifeboats from the Endurance which had been first trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in January 1915, before it sank on November 21st, of that year, and these vessels were their only hope of escape.
The three lifeboats had earlier been named after the chief financial backers of the expedition. Shackleton took command of the largest of the lifeboats, the James Caird, the Dudley Docker was commanded by Worsley, and Hubert Hudson took command of the Stancomb Wills.
However Hudson’s mental condition was deteriorating, after months of confinement on the ice, and he was suffering badly with frostbite, so it was soon Tom Crean who assumed command of the Wills. Being the smallest and most vulnerable of the three crafts, Crean’s task was immense and his efforts in keeping the Wills afloat, sailing through a labyrinth of ice and battling the rough sea, was truly heroic. Conditions on the boats were appalling as the freezing, soaked and hungry men suffered from seasickness and diarrhoea, as they sailed in search of land.
Initially Shackleton had contemplated reaching either Deception Island or Hope Island, but after three days at sea, Worsley ascertained that the strong currents had been causing the boats to drift south east. Taking this and the wretched condition of his men into consideration, Shackleton opted to strike for what he deemed the nearest attainable landfall – Elephant Island.
The Ever Changing Continent
If you have ever wondered as to how the crew of the Endurance, suddenly found themselves completely ensnared in the ice of the Weddell Sea, before they had even made landfall on the Antarctic continent, bearing in mind the prior experience of men like Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, to mention but two, then take a look at this fascinating video, on the amazing and rapid formation of the regions sea ice.
Shackleton Gives The Order To Sail The Lifeboats
The Endurance Expedition – Voyage to Elephant Island Begins
“Many of the important events of our Expedition occurred on Sundays, and this particular day was to see our forced departure from the floe on which we had lived for nearly six months, and the start of our journeyings in the boats.” Ernest Shackleton – “South” Chapter VIII – Escape From The Ice
On Saturday April the 8th 1916, the ice floe upon which Shackleton and his crew had established Patience Camp, suddenly split in two, and spurred the men into readiness for evacuation. “At 6.30 p.m. a particularly heavy shock went through our floe. The watchman and other members of the party made an immediate inspection and found a crack right under the James Caird and between the other two boats and the main camp. Within five minutes the boats were over the crack and close to the tents. The trouble was not caused by a blow from another floe. We could see that the piece of ice we occupied had slewed and now presented its long axis towards the oncoming swell.“*
The following morning April 9th, Shackleton had hoped that the south-south-westerly and south-easterly breezes would drift the precarious floe nearer to Clarence Island, making its attainment easier, but the ice was soon breaking up with alarming frequency beneath them, and they were soon forced to set sail.
The Birth Of Ernest Shackleton
Kilkea, Co. Kildare
On this day in 1874, Ernest Shackleton was born on his families farm at Kilkea, near Athy in Co. Kildare. His father came from an English Quaker background, his ancestors having fled to Ireland in the early years of the 18th century. Shackleton’s mother was from the Fitzmaurice clan of Co. Kerry.
Ernest was the second of ten children and was the oldest son, and when he was 10 years old the family moved to London. Somewhat against his fathers wishes Shackleton joined the merchant navy at the age of 16.
In 1901 he left for Antarctica with Robert Falcon Scott, on the Discovery Expedition, and he Scott and Wilson would set a new ‘Farthest South’ record of 82º 17’S on December 30th 1902. All three men, but Shackleton in particular, would suffer greatly on the return journey, due to frostbite and scurvy, and when they eventually returned to the ice-bound Discovery on 3rd February 1903, after a round trip of almost 1,000 miles, Shackleton was invalided home on the relief ship Morning, on Scott’s orders.
The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
On February 7th 1915, Frank Hurley took his iconic photograph of Tom Crean, on the Endurance Expedition. It is, above all other photographs of Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, courage and character.
Frank Hurley, the expeditions photographer, captured hundreds of images that would provide the world with a visual account, of the remarkable ordeal that unfolded when the Endurance became trapped, and eventually crushed, by the ice of the Weddell Sea.
The photo of Tom Crean was taken in the early stages of the Edurance entrapment, on February 7th 1915, and unbeknown to the men at this time, they faced more than two years of extreme survival, on ice, sea and land, and Crean would play a central role in the safe rescue of all the crew.
“The Shackleton Epic began in 2008, when Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Sir Ernest, approached Tim Jarvis with the idea of an expedition to honour one of the greatest leadership and survival stories of all time.
A crew of five British and Australian adventurers joined expedition leader Tim Jarvis AM FRGS, and on 11 February 2013 became the first to authentically re-enact Sir Ernest Shackleton’s perilous voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia and the dangerous crossing of its mountainous interior.
The Shackleton Epic were the first to successfully re-enact Shackleton’s complete ‘double’ journey across sea and land using traditional gear. British/Australian adventurer Jarvis, 47, a veteran of multiple polar expeditions, believes it was the most challenging expedition of his life.”
From The Shackleton Epic
Virtual Shackleton Exhibition
Learn about the race to the South Pole, one of the greatest survival stories ever told and see what life is like when stranded on the most inhabitable continent on earth.
Each tour is presented by one of their Shackleton Exhibition experts. Through direct video link, the guide will give your class an interactive learning experience, detailing the life of Sir Ernest Shackleton as well as his greatest adventure – The Endurance Expedition. They welcome any individual requests as well as your participation in a Q & A session at the end of the tour.
If your interested just follow the Facebook link below to the Shackleton Exhibition website.
Colour Photographs Of The Endurance Expedition
Images by Frank Hurley
Click on any image to view the gallery in a lightbox.
Frank Hurley colour Paget plates of Ernest Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ expedition to Antartica, 1915