Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition: A crewman’s view

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

“May, 1916. 12.

A nasty dump day with a mild easterly blizzard.

A good many paddies were caught. They seem very plentiful just now.

The ice foot proved too much for the penguins today. Large numbers landed on a rock which can be reached form the shore by a round about way. They inspected the route ashore, decided it was no good and turned back. I observed three batches do this and thinking later arrivals might be similarly deterred I crept round and lay in wait and, on another batch coming up, I cut off their retreat and compelled them to go ashore.

"Shackleton on Ice" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

“Shackleton on Ice” – courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

I was not so successful with a second batch, several eluding me, but I managed the third batch all night. In this way I coerced ashore 51 birds of which Wild considered 21 sufficient for our needs. I really have no patience with these methods and am at a loss to know what inspires them. It certainly is not due to humaneness. The situation is too critical to take such liberties. I dare say we shall get penguins as long as we have to stay here, but there is no guarantee that we shall and no advantage whatever in leaving it to chance.

The only expedition that has previously wintered in this neighbourhood (Bruce at the South Orkneys) report that the penguins all left at the end of April and if analogy is worth anything they may quite likely leave here soon too.

We have now let seven hundred birds slip through our fingers, if we ever go short we shall have only ourselves to blame. So we shall be under the painful necessity of killing them rather more regularly in future.

One wonders just why these birds visited us in such great quantities. Were they driven up from Graham’s Land by the ice and are they “en passage” migrating to islands further west more free from ice?”

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One hundred years ago this August, Ernest Shackleton rescued his crew after the failure of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Rauner holds a complete transcript of the diary and the manuscript diary from March 24th, 1915, through April 16th, 1916.” These entries are a selection from the diary of the expedition’s quartermaster Thomas Orde-Lees.

Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall holds a complete transcript of the diary and the manuscript diary from March 24th, 1915, through April 16th, 1916. To see them, come to Rauner and ask to see MSS-185 or Stefansson G850 1914 .O7 1997 during normal hours of operation.  An exhibit on Shackleton’s Antarctic explorations will be on display in Rauner from July 1-September 2, 2016.

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