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Shackleton’s <i>Endurance</i> Expedition: A crewman’s view

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"October, 1915. 24 & 25.

24th: We had the good luck to secure two seals on 22nd inst. A male & female one year old animals probably & therefore excellent eating, especially the latter as she was not with pup.

I had written the above & had discontinued writing for the evening in order to work the gramophone for the general entertainment of the party, and had just put on the third tune - "The Wearing of the Green" - when a terrific crash shook the ship with a prolonged shiver like an earthquake & she listed over about 8 degrees to starboard.

We finished the tune and then went up on deck to see if anything unusual had occurred. By this time Sir Ernest had been out on the floe and one could judge by his grave look that something really was amiss, & it soon proved to be even more serious than any of us had anticipated for within five minutes we were all hard at work preparing to abandon the ship as she had had her sternpost almost wrenched out and water was pouring in through the crack.

"Endurance bow with Crew" courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography
"Endurance bow with Crew" courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography 

There was little time to ask questions or to comment at all upon the damage for we were working like demons getting up all possible provisions and clothing, navigation instruments, sledging gear, dog food & miscellaneous impediments with a view to quitting ship and sledging over the ice to Graham's Land.

It is surprising what an enormous amount of work can be got through in a given time when one realizes thoroughly that dear life depends on it.

Marston, James & I were working down in the after hold extracting cases close by where the water was coming in down there & we could plainly hear the ominous rush of running water below us, meanwhile the noise of the ship breaking up was deafening.

That Sir Ernest had decided to fill up the boiler some days ago was a piece of miraculous foresight though it was probably more with a view to steaming than to pumping out that he determined upon it.

Some of us who recently ventured amongst ourselves to criticise his decision on this point as being a little premature now feel well reproached for our hasty utterances.

It was, as I said, a mercy that we had the boilers full and the furnaces alight. They were, however, "banked" i.e. being kept as low as possible in order to economise coal, just enough fire being maintained to keep the water hot.

Orders were at once given to get up steam to drive the steam pump and the two engineers...

I was writing the above words when I was cut short by the recommencement of heavy pressure which resulted in our finally abandoning the ship.

We spent an uneasy night but slept on board in our respective cabins. I alone in the hold. It was a little gruesome in the hold by myself with the noise of the water in the ship & pressure groaning outside but I was one of the very few who slept well.

25th: After yesterday's alarms it was a great relief to have a quiet day free from pressure but owing to the leakage we were all at the pumps all day & all night by watches.

The carpenter turned to like a trojan & has worked continuously for 48 hrs. building a coffer dam across the inside of the stern of the ship with a view to minimise the leakage & with so much success already that it has at any rate considerably reduced it. We shifted all stores from aft foreward so as to be able to get the stern out of the water as soon as the ice opens enough to float us again. What with alternate quarter hours on the pump and shifting gear all day it has been hard work, but the life of the ship & ourselves depends upon it and we all work with a will.

For some time past now we have been divided into two watches and have been working more or less as a ship's routine instead of as a shore party expedition as we were all the winter.

This breaking up of the floe is very undesirable just now with low temperature as it seems to result directly in heavy pressure and no real open water exists to any extent anywhere near us.

Let us hope, anyway, that the ice movement has subsided & that nothing untoward will occur for the future. Things have been a little too strenuous for us of late.

Meals even have been rather scrappy, the constant shifting of stores makes various items inaccessible in turn so that we have been unable to adhere to our strict order of rotation."

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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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