Shackleton Reaches New Farthest South Record
Nimrod Expedition 1907-1909
On January 9th 1909, Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Jameson Adams and Eric Marshall reached a new Farthest South record of 88° 23′ S, far surpassing the previous record of 82° 17’S, achieved by Scott, in December 1902. Shackleton along with Edward Wilson had accompanied Scott on that occasion, and it was a laborious effort. After their support teams had turned back, on November 15th, the three men began the gruelling task of relaying their loads. They dragged half their provisions forward for a distance of one mile, and then walked back to their remaining supplies, and hauled them forward again. It equated to the rather sombre fact that for every geographical mile they had covered, they had walked a distance of three miles.
This was not a method of advancement that would acquire the South Pole, and one has to question whether it was ever really a serious attempt to do so. Probably not. Wilson had noted in his diary that their goal was “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”.
Shackleton had of course fully intended reaching the South Pole, on the Nimrod Expedition, and almost did, but after the difficult ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, which they had discovered, and named after their chief sponsor, they had laboured across the Polar Plateau, and slowly realised that reaching the Pole was beyond them.
Rations were fast running out, and there simply would not be enough food to sustain the men, over the distance required to reach the Pole, and the subsequent return march. On the 4th of January, Shackleton finally conceded defeat, and opted instead to target the consolation of getting to within 100 miles of the South Pole.
At this point Shackleton displayed the great traits of leadership, that would forge his name into the annals of Antarctic heroes. He correctly surmised that should he, Wild, Marshall and Adams forge ahead, they would in all probability be the first to stand at the pole, but would, with greater certainty, die on the return journey.
Shackleton put the lives of his men before his own personal glory, and at latitude 88° 23′ S, which they reached on 9th January, 1909, they turned for home. Lack of provisions to sustain the entire effort was the crucial factor in this decision. As the return journey descended into a desperate battle for survival, which all four were extremely fortunate to survive, the astuteness of Shackleton’s decision was lost on very few.
The team struggled on, hauling their sledge across the Plateau, as the last of their ponies had died on the Beardmore. Finally on the 9th of January they made a last desperate dash, without the sledge or equipment and on arriving at 82° 17′ S, they planted the British flag which had been presented to Shackleton by King Edward VII.
They had got as close as 97.5 miles, to the Pole.
After a gruelling return march, Shackleton and Wild arrived at Hut Point on February 28th, having left a weakened Marshall, in the care of Adams, 33 miles behind. The two men would be rescued three days later.
Eric Marshall, Frank Wild and Ernest Shackleton at their Farthest South latitude, 88°23’S. Nimrod expedition 9 January 1909.