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

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"April, 1916. 23.

The blizzard has subsided but there is now very heavy snow and still a strong wind. The difference between the present conditions and a blizzard is not quite easy to define and, indeed, a blizzard is always an arbitrary standard. It is a matter of comparison with conditions prevailing at the locality. We do not usually term it a blizzard unless the air is thickly charged with snow powder and the wind is blowing at over 40 miles per hour.

The snow powder of a blizzard is mainly that which is picked up from the surface by the wind and whirled along in suspension. Falling snow and wind such as we have today produce rather more of a snow storm than a blizzard. Breathing is not interfered with in a snowstorm but in a blizzard it is sometimes nearly impossible to breath facing the wind, and even with one's back to the wind one is partly choked by the ice particles which fill the air exactly like dust in a dust storm.

"Frank Hurley under the Bow" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

It is much colder today.

The "James Caird" is now completed for Sir Ernest's latest venturesome undertaking.

The carpenter had contrived wonderfully with the very limited resources at hand. Amongst the very few spare pieces of wood that we had was a sledge that had been taken to pieces for convenience in sowing into the boat. With the two runners of this he made fore and aft pieces for the deck and then fixed pieces of 3 ply Venesta wood across from gunwale to gunwale and laid canvas over this.

The whole forms a really neat job and a square hatch has been introduced aft.

Although I would rather die than undertake such a journey. I think her crew should be able to keep fairly dry.

She has been strengthened in the hull by having the mast of the "Dudley Docker" lashed along her keel inside. In fact the other boats have been freely denuded to provide for her to the very best advantage.

Today the "Stancomb Wills" was turned upside down in the same way as the "Docker" in order to provide a residence for the sailors, and they all trooped into it like rabbits, and proceeded to make it as snug as possible. They used the remains of their tent to make a front wall with.

By this afternoon there was about six inches of snow all over everything. During a blizzard snow gets no chance to settle though it may run into big drifts and also penetrated into boxes and so on.

At 2 p.m. the sun came out and I was tempted to hang my bags out with a view to drying them a bit, but whilst I was employed upon the other work a sharp snow storm came on and before I could get them in they were half filled with snow. The moisture in it had meanwhile frozen and the bags were as stiff as boards. I shook out most of the snow but some got down into the base of the hairs and could not be eradicated, but I got the full benefit of it at night when they were, if possible, wetter than ever.

We have not been getting many seals yet. Two on the 21st inst. and a big one yesterday, all Weddells.

Shelter of some sort for all hands is imperative but how to achieve it has been a matter of much cogitation. The stones here are mostly rounded and therefore unsuitable for building and the only substance available for weatherproofing i.e. caulking the interstices between stones, is now snow and the mud-impregnated grit that forms the foreshore. The other alternative is to excavate and ice cave in the glacier slope at the shore end of the spit, and this was decided upon and commenced today. A spot was selected about sixty feet up the slope and a pick and shovel party set to work. The ice was extremely hard and slow progress was made, but by nightfall an excavation 6 ft. high by 3 ft. wide and 4 ft. deep had been made. I have seen artificial ice grottoes in the Swiss Glaciers made for the entertainment of tourists but never expected to have it live in one! Now we're going to, and glad of it too.

The "Caird" being ready for sea, Sir Ernest is only waiting for fair enough weather to launch her. At present there is far too much surf. The following have been selected to accompany him. Captain Worsley, Crean, the carpenter and the two sailors Vincent and McCarthy.

The distance is seven hundred and fifty miles in a straight line. The object of undertaking the journey is to obtain relief at the earliest possible moment. Bravo! brave leader."

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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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