Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition: A crewman’s view

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

“July 1916, 25.

Mild and damp. West wind and snow.

We had quite an exciting incident today. A large pregnant female seal drifted quite close in on an ice-slab in West Bay at a place where there is a good ice-foot over the rocks but where Penguin Hill rises in an abrupt precipice. Wild came along with his little gun but failed to make his usual fine shooting and although he shot it three times in the head he did no kill it. As he had only three cartridges with him he sent Holness back tot he hut for some more.

“The James Caird” – courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

To reach the hut it was necessary to go right round the foot of Penguin Hill a distance of some 300 yards over a difficult rocky path. Whilst Holness was away the seal so far recovered itself that it got its head and shoulder over the edge of the little floe and was about to dive when Holness arrived. It was an anxious moment for fear we might lose this valuable quantity of food. Wild then successfully dispatched it and it was decided to cut it up where it lay as soon as the floe drifted in close enough to gain access to it, and to haul it up the precipice by rope.

I had gone round the foot of Penguin Hill and had reached the top in order to give a had with the rope, but as I was immediately afterwards required down on the ice foot I had the pleasure of being lowered over the precipice on the end of the rope, and subsequently ascended by the same means.

The seal was cut up into four pieces and hauled up and the fully developed foetus which had only about two months to go was hauled up complete. We also got two penguins.”

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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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