Endurance, devotion to an ideal, and sublime courage in the face of death are inseparable from Arctic and Antarctic exploration. These qualities were never seen to better advantage than with Shackleton’s 1907-
LATE in the afternoon of New Year’s Day, 1908, a tiny ship crept slowly out of Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand, picked up a tow-
Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-
SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON commanded the 1907-
Although poor and almost unknown, his personality and his enthusiasm overcame all obstacles. He believed in himself and made financiers believe in him. In February, 1907, he published his plans. He proposed to winter with a small party in King Edward VII Land, sending his ship back to New Zealand. In the Antarctic summer of 1908-
Finance determined the choice of a ship. Shackleton bought the Nimrod, which had the disadvantages of being forty years old, small, and incapable of a speed of much over six knots. Her chief virtue lay in the solidity of her build. Throughout a varied career she had proved herself able to stand up to rough treatment; thus she seemed well suited to Shackleton’s purpose.
Her commander, however, was not impressed by his first view of her; in The Heart of the Antarctic, his personal account of the expedition, he wrote:
I must confess that I was disappointed when I first examined the little ship, to which I was about to commit the hopes and aspirations of many years. She was very dilapidated and smelt strongly of seal-
The Nimrod was passed to the ship repairers, whose efficient work on her convinced Shackleton that the vessel would not discredit his expedition.
The ship was towed southward for 1500 miles to save her scanty coal supply. Favoured by fortune, she then crept onward through a berg-
On October 29, 1908, the Polar party left winter quarters and began their long journey into the unknown.
Shackleton had selected three companions: J. B. Adams, Dr. E. S. Marshall, and Frank Wild, who had been with him in the Discovery. All were young men; Shackleton thirty-
Shackleton had helped to haul sledges for hundreds of miles over the Barrier, and knew the terrific labour entailed. A better method was badly needed, and the obvious plan, as Amundsen showed later, was to take an abundance of sledge-
SHACKLETON’S ROUTE to the South Pole is shown on this map. New land discovered by the 1907-
A supporting party of five men hauled an additional sledge-
Normally, the surface of the Ross Barrier, which is a gigantic ice-
THE INTERIOR OF THE NIMROD. 1. Fore-
Later that day a blizzard began to blow, with thick, drifting snow. That evening, and all next day, the party huddled in their tiny canvas tents, only quitting their sleeping-
On November 7, the blizzard having blown itself out, the Polar party got under way. The supporting party stood and cheered them, watching the four men and their four ponies plodding doggedly onward into the white distance. The ponies, in any event, were doomed; their fodder would not take them halfway to the Pole, and Shackleton carried a revolver to end their lives humanely when the need arose. Would the men fare better? They realized the chances of failure.
For the first few days after parting company with the supporting party the track led through a maze of crevasses, Adams and Chinaman being almost lost in the last of these. Then, as they drew away from White Island, the surface improved, and one or two strange incidents broke the monotonous routine of their daily marches. One evening the ice under them vibrated with the con-
THE FIRST SENTINEL of the frozen south. This tabular berg was sighted by Shackleton fourteen days after he had left New Zealand. From this point the Nimrod had to travel through a berg-
The party were making good some twelve to fifteen miles southward daily, but already the strain was beginning to tell upon men and ponies. Wild and Shackleton, who were well accustomed to Antarctic sledging, suffered badly from snow-
Three days later they reached a depot of pony-
When the party left Depot A weather and surface improved, and the company pushed on southward, intent upon advancing their food supplies as far as possible before the ponies died. Their daily mileage increased to 16, and then 17, but by now the pony, Chinaman, was so stiff in the knees that he had almost to be dragged along. Had the men hauled on the drag-
Chinaman was the first to go. On November 21 the party camped just south of 81° S, and he was then led behind a snow-
PANCAKE ICE in the wake of the Nimrod. Before she could approach the Ross Sea she had to work her way through a floating belt of ice. So that as much coal as possible could be saved, it was arranged that she should be towed for the first 1,500 miles of the outward trip. The day after the towing ship had cast off and the Nimrod was left to her own resources she encountered this belt of ice guarding the approach to the Ross Sea.
The party pushed on next morning with three ponies, each dragging 500 lb, and the day was made memorable by the appearance of new land to the southward -
There were still many miles of the Barrier between them and their new land. The ponies were pulling well, but Adams was almost sleepless with incessant toothache, and Wild showed passing symptoms of what proved later to be dysentery. But the weather was fine, and the day temperatures, which had long been below zero, rose to as much as 17° Fahr. By November 26 prospects were a little brighter. Adams’ tooth was out (and a new one growing in its place!); Wild was better; and they had camped in 82° 18½’ S, having beaten Scott’s “Farthest South” and reached it much earlier in the sledging-
PUSHING HER WAY through open pack ice, the Nimrod is shown making for King Edward VII Land. At one period the ship encountered close pack ice set with huge icebergs, and Shackleton found that the whole of the northern pack and bergs were drifting towards him. This meant that detached cliffs were moving in from seaward, slowly but inevitably, and it was only a matter of time before the two masses would meet and crush his comparatively small craft between them.
Next day it became obvious that Grisi, snow-
The surface now became bad -
THE EXPEDITION TO MOUNT EREBUS. A party of Shackleton’s men ascended this ice mountain, which stands at the gate of the Great Ice Barrier and which rises from sea-
ship, HMS Erebus.
The party had advanced over three hundred miles southward in a month, and were not far from half-
So these four grim, half-
Two days of hard pulling, the four men hauling on one sledge and Socks following with the other, saw them at the foot of the great glacier, which Shackleton named Beardmore, after one of the expedition’s backers. Right in its jaws rose a 3,000-
The party, having left Socks tethered in camp with food for the day, roped up and attacked the climb. Shackleton, in his eagerness, led them without goggles, and paid the inevitable penalty of a violent attack of snow-
On the morning of December 5, Shackleton was almost blind, and Marshall and Adams reconnoitred the glacier-
Soon Socks was no longer with them. On the second day of the climb Shackleton, still half blind, Marshall and Adams, who were hauling the leading sledge, heard a shout of “Help!” from Wild, who was following with Socks. Swinging round, they saw the pony-
A BROKEN SLEDGE, when Shackleton and his party were fewer than 200 miles from the South Pole, was an additional burden to men already weak through semi-
Alone, and hundreds of miles from help, they dragged their sledges patiently and steadily upwards day by day. In spite of fatigue, the four continued the sketch-
The weary climb was almost over. They had fought their way up the glacier for well over 100 miles, and were almost 10,000 feet above sea-
On New Year’s Day, 1909, they camped in 87° 6½' S, “holding both North and South records”. [So far as the party then knew, the “farthest north” claimed by any explorer was Peary’s 87° 6' N, in 1906.] And Shackleton, suffering agonies of mountain-
The food shortage was acute -
Undoubtedly they could reach it, if reaching it were all, but they could never win their way back to the nearest depot. To have a chance of safety, they must turn about while still short of the Pole. It was bitter to come so near and fail at the last, but they could not fight a losing battle indefinitely against the forces of Nature. That in such circumstances Shackleton could face the facts squarely, and put his men’s safety before even his life’s ambition, emphasizes his real greatness as a leader.
None the less, the four intended to get as near the Pole as possible before turning, and on January 4 they cheerfully took the enormous risk of leaving a depot on the windswept plateau itself, where only their tracks, which the snowfall might obliterate, could guide them back. Plodding painfully through the heavy snow, cutting their feet on sharp Sastrugi, battling with continuous head-
Soon after midnight on January 8-
Two Union Jacks, one of them the Queen’s, were hoisted, and Shackleton took formal possession of the plateau for his country. That it included the Pole was almost certain, but powerful glasses revealed nothing to the southward but the endless, dead-
A GALLANT EXPLOIT. On January 9, 1909, the 100 geographical miles from the Pole. Two Union Jacks were hoisted, one of them presented to the expedition by Queen Alexandra. Thus Shackleton took possession of the Polar plateau for his country. After a photograph had been taken, flags were struck and the homeward journey was begun.
Although falling short of the Pole, they had outdistanced their predecessors more completely than anyone had done before or could do again. To achieve this they had staked and all but lost their lives. As the event showed, death was very near them along every mile of the weary homeward marches, and only a combination of extraordinary endurance with good fortune saved them from the fate which befell Scott’s Polar party three years later.
Guided by their outward tracks, which the blizzard, curiously, had made more distinct, they picked up the depot left on the plateau, hoisted an extempore sail on the sledge, and pushed northward, helped by the downward slope and a following wind, at twenty miles a day.
The temperature continued to be low, and at night the cold made sleep difficult. Shackleton suffered from frostbite, his heels and toes cracking and causing him considerable pain for several days. Their hunger increased with reduced rations; but despite these hardships they continued to keep up a good daily speed. One day during a halt, they discovered that the sledge meter, used in calculating distances between depots, had been broken off and lost. Thus they were forced to rely on their judgment of distance until they came within sight of land.
This they did on the following day, after not having seen any land for close on three weeks of monotonous travelling. On January 17 they said good-
Saved by a Mirage
The food in the depot was mainly horse-
S. privately forced on me his one breakfast biscuit, and would have given me another to-
Once the Barrier surface had been reached the worst of the marching was over, but now a fresh danger threatened. Acute dysentery, probably caused by the horse-
Two birthdays were celebrated: Ray’s (Shackleton’s daughter) with two extra knobs of sugar in their cocoa; on his own birthday Shackleton was presented with a cigarette, which, although made of pipe tobacco and coarse paper, seemed to him to be the height of luxury.
The surface became better for travelling, and the health of the party generally improved, but hunger was making them extremely weak and was a great anxiety to their leader. Their rations for a time consisted of one pannikin of horse-
SHACKLETON AND HIS PARTY were the first to see these mountains, which they did after having passed Scott’s Farthest South. Climbs over heavily-
On February 20 they reached the last depot (A), which they had laid themselves. Everything turned on their picking up the Bluff Depot, between them and Ross Island, which was to have been laid out during their absence. If they failed to find it, or if by any accident it had not been laid out, they were doomed men, as their present food supplies would not carry them to Ross Island.
On February 22 they struck the fairly recent tracks of a party of four men with dogs, a reassuring sight, since these must have been made by the party laying the Bluff Depot. Next day they picked up the depot itself by a miracle. It lay far to the right of their line of march, and they would have passed without sighting it (its flag was below their horizon), if an accidental mirage had not brought the flag into sight long enough for them to note its bearing. Here they found food in plenty, and a note to say that the Nimrod had returned, and was lying in McMurdo Sound.
Even then the strain of their race against time was lessened, but not removed. Marshall, who struggled along uncomplainingly, was obviously ill with renewed dysentery. After two more marches Shackleton left him in camp, with Adams to look after him, and pushed on with Wild. They reached the old Discovery hut at Ross Island on the night of February 28, but found only a note saying that all the other parties were on board the ship, which would wait for them in McMurdo Sound until February 26 -
But the Nimrod had not gone. Capt. C. P. Evans (formerly of Koonya), who now commanded her, had nearly given the southern party up for lost; but he had been persuaded to hold on until the last moment, and was still in the Sound. Next morning Shackleton’s signals were seen, he and Wild having set the old “magnetic hut” on fire, and also used a heliograph; by 11 am both were safely on board. Shackleton stayed only long enough to organize, land and lead a relief-
They received a magnificent welcome at Lyttelton, and the summary of his results which Shackleton cabled for publication brought him permanently into the world’s news. Once back in London, congratulations and gold medals were showered on him, and his great achievement found official recognition in a knighthood and a grant of £20,000 to pay off the outstanding debt on the expedition.
He was never to touch quite the same heights again. But his place among great Polar explorers is secure; and his chief exploit, when he so bravely showed the way to the South Pole and so narrowly failed to reach it, will long be remembered. Admittedly, such feats are of limited scientific value; but a nation which can breed the men who accomplish them need not fear the future.
THE SHADOW OF DEATH which stalked the four intrepid explorers on their return journey to the Nimrod was kept at bay only by the food depots left on the outward journey. Stores were buried in the snow and a flag or piece of cloth was tied to a post to indicate the position. Food in the depots consisted largely of horse-