Skip to content

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

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"Ocean Camp" courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography 

"November, 1915. 1 & 4.

1st: Temperature +18

This morning broke almost as bad as yesterday; snowing and that mysterious diffused light that one has seen nowhere else but here. A light so strange that whilst it is perfectly bright enabling one to see to do things just as on any other day yet the rugged surface of the floe appears as one unbroken flat expense & only the very tallest hummocks become visible. The sub-features of the surface & the pitfalls beneath one's very feet are absolutely invisible & yet it is not anything like a mistiness in the air whatever.

The impossibility of hauling the boats for any great distance over the present loose surface is so very evident after our strenuous efforts of the last day or two that Sir Ernest has now definitely decided to remain here where we are to subsist on seals & penguins if possible, saving our valuable sledging food and trust to drifting northward with the pack ice. We may do it yet; it all depends on whether we secure sufficient seals & penguins. We got 3 seals today and one yesterday.

There is also the strong probability of leads opening close to us & our being able to row northwards, but wherever we go to we must endeavour to reach either Snow Hill or Paulet Island.

Today we struck camp at 1 p.m. and pitched again about a quarter of a mile further on and about 1 1/2 miles from the wreck but on an apparently firm old floe which is not likely to split for a long time which we have called Ocean Camp.

We shifted the two boats with the utmost difficulty. The surface is terrible, like nothing that any of us had seen before around us. We were sinking at times up to our hips, & everywhere the snow was 2 ft. deep.

So long as we have the bare minimum of food we shall be all right.

Breakfast - Bovril ration (6 rations) i.e. 6 men's rations for 28 men & 2 biscuits each.

Luncheon - Tea, (no milk or sugar) & 1 biscuit.

Dinner - Boiled seal (no salt), 1 biscuit.

4th: Temperature zero.

Very cold during the night. Misty & cold early but it soon brightened into a magnificent day.

It has been at last decided to make a frantic effort to get some of the stores out of the ship. The carpenter went off early to the ship & directed operations with so much success that he succeeded in cutting through the three inch deck now three feet under water and making so large a hole that many cases floated up.

Others were subsequently raised by means of a boat hook.

The cutting of the hole must have been terribly hard work, for the ship is very stoutly built & the deck is made of three inch planking, moreover even the most advantageous position was two & a half feet under water. It is an act of providence that the provisions happen to be all stowed on the port side of the ship, the side which is now uppermost.

The method employed was chiselling with a large three inch ice chisel sharpened up for the purpose, rigged to a pile-driving tackle & hauled up & down in the manner of a pile driver. As soon as a long enough slit had been hacked out a saw was inserted & gradually by chiselling & sawing a hole nearly three feet square was made, about two feet from the ship's side and close by the ward-room door, that is immediately over the corner of the hold where the most of the provisions were stored.

Later on a second hole was pierced more foreward and a "fish-tackle" fastened on to the intervening woodwork between the two holes. By hoisting the "fish-tackle" the whole of the remaining woodwork was rent away and the work of extracting the submerged cases proceeded.

At times the men were working with their arms in ice cold water up to the shoulder for half an hour at a stretch.

It is really wonderful what has been accomplished by dint of dogged perseverance, skill & toil. No less than 105 cases of provisions have been brought to the camp today representing some two tons of provisions.

What this means to us in our present destitution words fail to express.

Breakfast - Bovril ration (9 rations) & Dog pemmican ( 1 cake).

Luncheon - Seal steaks fried in blubber, tea & milk.

Dinner - Curried seal, tea, milk & sugar."

Previous entry  |   Next entry  |  Go to introduction

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *