Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition: A crewman’s view

Shackleton Exhibition Poster

“For scientific discovery, give me Scott; for speed and efficiency of travel, give me Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when you are seeing no way out, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton.” – Raymond Priestley

In 1914, Ernest Shackleton led a crew of twenty-six Britons south to attempt the first crossing of the entire Antarctic continent. The excursion was formally titled the Imperial Trans-Arctic Expedition, but was more familiarly known as the Endurance expedition (the name of the explorers’ ship). Although the mission started with high hopes, those dreams quickly died when the Endurance became trapped in and then slowly crushed by massive shelves of sea ice.

Shackleton ultimately chose to prioritize the survival of his men over the expedition’s original goal of crossing Antarctica. After dragging three small lifeboats many miles across the ice shelf, the crew made a harrowing voyage across open water to the uninhabited Elephant Island. From there, once rescue seemed unlikely, Shackleton and five other crewmen made an eight-hundred-mile journey in a single lifeboat to a whaling station on South Georgia Island. After three abortive attempts to return by ship to Elephant Island, Shackleton eventually reached his marooned crew on August 30, 1916 and brought them home. Not a single man was lost.

One hundred years later, fifty-one Dartmouth students in Ross Virginia’s Spring 2016 “Pole to Pole” class shared their research to produce an exhibit exploring Shackleton and the Antarctica of his time. The exhibit, a learning collaboration with Rauner Special Collections Library, is installed in their Class of 1965 Galleries exhibit space from June 28th until September 2nd. In conjunction with the exhibit, Library Muse is blogging a selection of personal diary entries written by Thomas Orde-Lees, a member of the Endurance expedition, from the start of the voyage until the Elephant Island rescue. Follow along as Orde-Lees provides an intimate and candid perspective on the challenges, fears, and eventual exhilaration that defined the rescue of the Endurance’s crew.

Go to the first entry

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