The Southern Sky Rescue Attempt.
The Endurance Expedition – May 23rd 1916.
Shackleton, Crean and Worsley had stumbled into Stromness whaling station on May 20th 1916, to the utter disbelief of all who endeavoured there. The trio were unrecognisable, shattered, destitute men, who had just completed the most epic of journeys, traversing ice, sea and uncharted land. With McCarthy, Vincent and McNish, they had left their 22 comrades behind on Elephant Island, on April 24th, and sailed over 800 miles across the storm lashed Weddell Sea, in their lifeboat, in search of rescue for them. That 16 day voyage was a hellish passage, that ended on May 10th 1916, in the death throes of a violent hurricane, that had enveloped them for the previous 24 hours. Somehow they had summoned the strength to fight the storm. Somehow, as they were tossed and battered by wind and wave, they had managed to avoid the rocky approaches and cliff faces of South Georgia, that the elements continuously hurled them towards.
As the fury abated, making landfall was of paramount importance. As to where, hardly mattered. These men were physically and mentally shattered, and parched; their fresh water supply having run out days beforehand. So dry were their mouths that they could not eat. There is no wrong side of the island to land upon in such a situation. Even in the relative post hurricane calm, it was an extremely difficult task, to weave their tiny timber boat through the rocky agglomerations that constitute the island.
Having finally landed, they found themselves on the opposite side of the island, to their intended destination of Stromness, but more importantly they found a fresh water stream. Over the course of the next few days the men recouped, for the task ahead. They sailed further up the inlet of King Haakon Bay, and set up quarterage, using the upturned James Caird, as as a shelter, at a place they named Peggotty Camp. Continue Reading →
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 afterwards, 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 →
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 climb 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.
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 →
The Aurora Crew Are Rescued.
Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
On this day, January 10th 1917, over four months after Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley had rescued the last of the Endurance crew from Elephant Island, Shackleton arrived at Cape Royds, Antarctica, to save the stranded men of the Aurora.
The Aurora crew 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.
Ross Sea party members: Back row from left: Joyce, Hayward, Cope, Spencer-Smith. Centre: Mackintosh third from left, Stenhouse fourth from left.
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.
Continue Reading →
Sir Ernest Shackleton dies at South Georgia
The expedition ship the Quest arrived in South Georgia on January 4th 1922. Sir Ernest Shackleton was sailing South again. This expedition which had been financed by Shackleton’s friend, John Quiller Rowett, intended circumnavigating Antarctica.
Tom Crean who was now married, had politely refused Shackleton’s request to join him on the expedition, stating that he now had ‘a long haired pal’ to look after.
Two of the crew on board when the Quest left Plymouth were Boy Scouts, James Slessor Marr and Norman Mooney, who had come through a rigorous competition, before being selected by Shackleton, for the honour of travelling with him to Antarctica. Shackleton was an admirer of the Boy Scout movement, and had arranged the competition with Baden Powell.
After encountering rough seas in the Bay of Biscay, the Quest had to detour to Lisbon for repairs, and the seriously seasick Scout, Norman Mooney left the expedition. James Slessor Marr would continue the voyage, and aided by Shackleton, he began a journal of his travels aboard the Quest, which would later be published as Into The Frozen South, by Scout Marr.
The James Caird Reaches South Georgia.
The Endurance Expedition.
“We fought the seas and the winds and at the same time had a daily struggle to keep ourselves alive. At times we were in dire peril.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton – South
On May 10th 1916 Shackleton, Worsley, Crean, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish reached South Georgia aboard the James Caird lifeboat, which they had sailed from Elephant Island. The 800 mile journey across the planets most violent stretch of water had taken them 16 torrid days to complete. One can only wonder, as to whether the weary, frozen, starved and parched men realised the sheer enormity of their achievement, as they dragged themselves and their boat from the icy waters that day.
Traversing the Southern Ocean is never anything less than a mammoth task. Doing so in a 23 foot long lifeboat during the Antarctic Winter, is almost beyond comprehension. But that is exactly what those six men did. Continue Reading →
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.