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Ernest Shackleton, a Tale of the Antarctic

Ernest Shackleton, a Tale of the Antarctic Shapero Rare Books

'We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.'

– Ernest Shackleton on  the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Ernest Shackleton, a Tale of the Antarctic Shapero Rare Books

Ernest Shackleton, born in County Kildare, Ireland, in 1874, was for many years the forgotten man of Antarctic exploration, overshadowed by Captain Scott. Now his achievements have been recognized as amongst the very greatest in the annals of exploration.

Shackleton’s first journey to the Antarctic was on the Discovery expedition organized by the Royal Geographic Society and the Royal Society. Its aim was the scientific exploration of South Victoria Land and the ice barrier, discovered by Sir James Ross, and the interior of the Antarctic continent. This was under the command of Captain Scott. Scott made sledge journeys inland with Shackleton and Wilson. He made the first long journey towards the interior of Antarctica, and in addition to surveying the coast of South Victoria Land and taking soundings of the Ross Sea, important scientific discoveries were made in the fields of zoology, magnetism, and meteorology. For Shackleton, however, the expedition was ill-starred – he was sent back home on health grounds after only a year and his relationship with Scott never recovered from this setback.

SHACKLETON, Sir Ernest Henry.

The Heart of the Antarctic; being the story of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica for the second time as leader of his own expedition on the Nimrod, determined to reach the South Pole. The party established their base at Cape Royds near Mt. Erebus on the Ross Sea, and in early March 1908, six men led by Jameson Adams made the first ascent of Mt. Erebus. They wintered at Cape Royds and Frank Wild and Ernest Joyce oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the first book completely written, published, and printed in Antarctica. In September 1908, Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair Mackay left on an expedition to claim the south Magnetic Pole for the British Empire. This they reached in January 1909. Meanwhile, in October 1908, Shackleton set off for the South Pole accompanied by Wild, Eric Marshall, and Adams. Their sledges were hauled by Manchurian ponies and they took food for ninety-one days to be supplemented by meat from the ponies slaughtered on the way. They travelled at twice the speed of Scott’s 1902 expedition and passed Scott’s furthest mark south on November 26th. Enduring terrible weather conditions and having to man-haul after losing their last pony, they eventually got to within 100 miles of the South Pole, attaining the furthest southerly point ever reached at that time. Altogether Shackleton had travelled over 1750 miles by sledge. He returned to London a national hero. Shackleton’s first book, The Heart of the Antarctic tells this story.

Shackleton's third Antarctic journey was in command of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1916. This turned out to be a remarkable tale of heroism and courage. After the expedition ship Endurance became stuck on the ice, all the stranded expedition safely reached Elephant Island in three lifeboats. Then Shackleton, accompanied by the captain of the Endurance, Frank Worsley, and four other men sailed the 22-foot lifeboat James Caird some 800 miles across the stormy South Atlantic Ocean, eventually arriving at their intended destination, South Georgia. This was an astounding feat of navigation by Worsley, who used a sextant in a tiny boat that encountered 50-foot waves and storms. Shackleton, Worsley and seaman Tom Crean then walked across South Georgia in a 36-hour march to fetch help from Stromness whaling station. All the men were rescued from Elephant Island. Shackleton recounts this journey in his book South.

Although he had already achieved so much, the lure of Antarctica was too strong for Shackleton to resist, so he started his fourth and final trip in the ill-suited Quest in 1921, with (as always) wildly ambitious objectives. However, Shackleton died suddenly in South Georgia in 1922 and was buried there. The expedition’s doctor, Alexander Macklin wrote in his diary "I think this is as 'the Boss' would have had it himself, standing lonely in an island far from civilisation, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas, & in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits."

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