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

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"October, 1915. 26.

Pumping continues ceaselessly day & night and we are able to keep the water under.

Routine work is much deranged.

Until we can manage to dispense with the steam pump it means using up much of our valuable coal supply. I believe we have barely 34 tons left and are now using 3/4 tons daily for pumping only. The engineers are splendid. They tackle the matter with a vengeance and are burning a quantity of seal blubber to eke out our slender stock of coal.

No one who has not seen blubber nor seen it burn can quite appreciate what it is like or what a high value it has as a fuel. In appearance it is much like the fat on bacon if one can imagine the fat of a pig stripped off in one piece about two to three inches thick adhering to the skin.

"Ice Floe" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography
"Ice Floe" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

As used by us it is cut off from the seal with the skin in one great sheet & then cut longitudinally into strips about six feet long by six inches wide which can, if required, be further cut up into small brick-like chunks for convenience in burning in the galley-range. Left in a temperature below freezing the strips soon harden up to about the consistency of the bacon of commerce or harder. The whole of the fat is richly impregnated with oil (seal oil) which forms one of the chief constituents of "train oil" and which burns fiercely. In the early part of last century seal oil was the principal ingredient of the oil used then for street illumination.

Further heavy pressure took place again this evening lifting first the bows then the stern several feet out of water. We were all out at once digging trenches which helped the ice to break up & pass under the ship. The movement lasted about three hours and closed the leakage at the stern to some extent. In view of having to abandon the ship we lowered three boats onto the floe, sledges & stores, but slept quietly enough on board for the night of the 26th & 27th."

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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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