Skip to content

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."

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.

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."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"Hurley-Shackleton Patience Camp" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography
"Hurley-Shackleton Patience Camp" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

"October, 1915. 18 & 19.

18th: Temperature max. 27. A mild misty damp day.

After the "pressure" of yesterday we thought that things had settled down a bit but it was not to be so.

We were having tea peacefully at 4 p.m. after having spent the greater part of the day pumping out & bailing out the foreward lower hold, when we heard & felt several light bumps, such as we have grown quite accustomed to, followed by one very loud one which aroused our curiosity sufficiently to cause us to casually saunter up on deck. There are always possibilities of the "pressure" resulting in some interesting spectacle for the mighty forces which can split asunder vast floes of ice many feet thick must always be somewhat awe inspiring when at work, but we were not prepared for what we saw today.

No sooner had we reached the deck than the ship was heaved up suddenly & violently & immediately rolled over slowly onto her side until she lay on her port side to all intents & purposes on her "beam ends". It looked at first as if she must turn turtle.

Everything was at once pandemonium.

Kennels, spars, sledges, etc. all sliding down the deck & the dogs howling with terror.

We feared at first that many of the dogs were injured if not killed but eventually we found that none were seriously hurt which was really marvellous for the kennels are in batches of about ten weighing with the spars etc. on top of them say half a ton & they were all jumbled up & sandwiched like carriages in a railway accident.

Our first task was to liberate the dogs, & no easy one on account of the weights of the kennels & the difficulty of working at all with the deck at an angle of fifty degrees & very slippery with thawed slush & blubber all over it.

At the time, I happened to be standing against an open space on the port side amidships i.e. the side to which the ship heeled over. Before I had time to consider what was the most useful thin I could do a kennel just beside me commenced to slide overboard.

19th: Temperature 29. Mild & moist.

Any amount of work rectifying the derangements of yesterday & refilling the boiler. All the loose wood has been broken up, event the Norwegian "pram" boat, & placed in the bunker for fuel, the blubber being taken out of the bunker where it had been stored since the beginning of the month and placed on deck. With the help of one of the men, McCarty I bailed the rest of the water out of the fore hold & straightened things up a bit.

I had just time to release its occupant "Simian", one of the finest dogs, before the kennel shot out through the open space. Just as I thought it must fall overboard it jammed in some way hanging right over the side & later on it was rescued.

No sooner had I got hold of the dog than the heavy midship kennels with all the sledges & other gear on them came sliding down upon me & the carpenter, jamming us in between these & the kennels on the ship's side, & apparently crushing several dogs. Meanwhile the dogs in the ship's side kennels began to fight the midship dogs who had so precipitately descended upon them.

We managed to keep back the kennels sufficiently to prevent injury to ourselves and until Sir Ernest had gathered "hands" to pass a rope & tackle round them & relieve us of their weight.

Thereafter there was no end of work to do recovering & securing all the sundry gear. All this was very difficult with the deck at such a steep angle of thirty degrees, but some of us got long battens & nailed them down to the deck fore & aft a yard apart & this provided a fair foot hold.

Mr. Wild & I had "braces & bits" and crawled into the kennels to drill holes for the securing ropes to pass through. The dogs couldn't make it out at all to see us crouching inside the kennels whilst they themselves had to sit outside."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"The James Caird" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

"September, 1915. 27.

On the 24th when Wild & his retinue of four dog teams went out to the iceberg about seven miles ahead of us, due west, he was lucky enough to find & shoot on his way back a large female crab-eater seal which had come up out of a small "lead" to give birth to her young. As the weather was thick & the dogs were tired he was unable to bring in the quarry so left it where it fell and in order to lighten it for subsequent transportation carried out the usual procedure in such cases - cutting it open to bleed it and removing the useless organs. It was no surprise to find within it a large living fetus & on separating the umbilical cord the poor little unborn seal also expired.

Pressure has been going on intermittently almost ever since the 14th inst., tilting the ship slightly first to one side then to the other until this afternoon it reached a climax by giving the ship such a tremendous nip that her stern was raised nine feet out of the water and the propellor was actually above the surface.

In order to relieve the pressure we were all out on the floe with picks & shovels digging a trench in the ice round the ship, but we got very wet owing to the trench becoming inundated & I doubt whether we did much good as the ship's side was pressed in five or six inches for about eighteen feet all along the outer wall of the port bunker. Contrary to our expectations she stood it; thank God.

Yesterday Sir Ernest decided to get up steam so we spent all the morning pumping sea water into the boiler by hand. No sooner was it full than a leak was discovered at the bottom & we had to pump it all out again. Meanwhile the water ran along the bilges & flooded my storeroom. I have been all day shifting the cases out of the water quite fifty of them. It was a disgusting job. The stinking bilge-water was eighteen inches deep at one end. I feel into it & got very wet & smelly.

Breakfast - Bacon, porridge.

Luncheon - Ox tongue.

Dinner - Tinned haricot mutton, red currant tart & cream."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"Endurance rear Port Side" courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography 

"July, 1915. 22 & 23.

22nd: Pressure is always accompanied by more or less noise as is only to be expected.

Heavy "piling up" will at times make such a roar that one cannot make oneself heard above it. On the other hand the sound of light pressure is often no more that a mere creaking or even an intermittent ticking, but if the motion is fairly rapid it may amount to a considerable groaning noise.

I know of nothing quite like it that I could liken it to. The creaking of a bough of a tree is something of the same sound, but there is no music in the ice-groan. It is, rather, uncanny & intimidating. As a rule the noise does not persist in any one place for long. It generally seems to alternate between two or three places a few hundred yards apart, lasting for ten minutes or so at each place. It see that these different places act as the outposts or buffers of the floes and that the two floes adjust themselves gradually each promontory taking up the whole of the pressure in turn &, so to speak, fending off the rest of the floe.

The crumbling away of the faces of these promontories constitutes pressure.

As to the rate of movement I can only say what I have seen, "rafting" moves at speeds up to six inches to a foot a minute, but the two sides of a crack may move longitudinally past each other at nearly double this speed. The night watchman distinguished himself tonight by putting ice on Sir Ernest's fire by mistake for coal & put the fire out to the accompaniment of much spluttering, steam and, I believe, some swearing. It happened in this wise. Outside Sir Ernest's door are two similar boxes one filled with coal & the other with broken ice for the kettle. In half light the watchman, who is a bit of a blind bat, used the wrong box. It appears that someone bad "amusingly" exchanged the usual positions of the two boxes.

23rd: It is a pity that I have here to resort to pencil. It cannot, however, be avoided for I am writing lying on my back & I find that my fountain pen refuses to "fount" in an inverted position though it always seems to do so quite well when in my pocket.

Sciatica has at last got the better of me.

Sir Ernest, in the nicest way, tells me that I have been impudent in my dress; not wearing enough clothes, and although I can honestly say that I have never once felt the cold, I daresay he is right. Certainly I must admit that i have been out a good deal lately when the thermometer stood at about -30 in just the ordinary things once would wear on a mild cold day in England.

Until now my costume has always been as follows 2 pairs socks, sea boots, combinations, pair thin tweed knickers (generally a pair of flannel tennis trousers over the knickers) brown sweater & ordinary couch jacket. When I go out I simply put on a woolen scarf, two woolen helmets &, of course, one, or sometimes two pairs of mits.

As I have no outdoor duties, at present, I am able to please myself whether I go out or not & therefore I practically never find the need of Burberry clothing.

If the weather is such that the dog drivers all go out in Burberry clothing then I either remain on board or else only for a short run in the immediate vicinity of the ship.

Anyhow they ascribe my present attack to going about insufficiently clad especially as to my boots. I rather think however that it is due to the icy cold draught through the cracks of the door against which I sit at meals, and perhaps it was brought to a climax by my being out in the blizzard for rather a long time a week ago today, shoveling snow, though I had my Burberry's on then. I felt I was in for it on the 17th but as I had some extra urgent work shifting packing cases from the deck into the hold I stuck it for a day & went sick on the 18th.

My breakfast, luncheon, dinner consisted of "slop"."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"July, 1915. 21.

As, I think, I have before mentioned, pressure generally manifests itself in three ways, "rafting", "tenting" & "piling up."

The former usually takes place when the movements occur in fairly thin ice. I have not observed true "rafting" in ice over six inches thick. It simply means that one sheet of ice slips over or under the other; usually the moving portion appears to slip underneath the stationary portion, but it is not always possible to tell which is the moving portion as the apparent movement is only relative & one is apt to surmise that the stationary portion is the part on which one happens to be standing at the moment.

"Endurance under Full Sail" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography
"Endurance under Full Sail" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other day I was watching some pressure and it appeared to me that the adjacent floe was sliding towards me over our floe. On stepping onto the moving ice the exact opposite appeared to be the case, it seemed then that I was standing on a stationary floe and that our floe was sliding underneath the ice I was on.

"Tenting" I have previously described. It occurs when the edges of two floes, i.e. two sides of a crack, of course, in pressing against each other, rise up without actually breaking off before the movement ceases.

Tenting may be complicated when after a good deal of ordinary pressure & piling up, or rafting, has taken place, but when the final movements give rise to tenting. There will then be a "tent" over a pressure ridge.

One other & less frequent form of "pressure" is where the opposing edges are much more snow covered & the movement reciprocating; the result is then a crack filled with frozen slush or brash very treacherous to step on.

We again got the fine bag of four Emperors today which would seem to indicate that there is a number of these fine birds about."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 12.44.38 PM
"Tom Crean & Husky Pups" courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography 

"June, 1915. 15.

Still very mild, foggy and almost quite dark.

Much excitement was afforded us today by the dog drivers settling a controversy as to whose team was the fastest by putting them to the test.

The start was fixed about half a mile away from the ship and the teams raced home against time.

Sir Ernest acted as starter and competent time keepers checked the starting and arrival times.

The teams consisted of seven dogs each with a total weight of about 700 lbs. including the driver.

The orders and times were Wild 2 min. 16 sec., Hurley 2 min. 26 sec., Crean 2 min. 39 sec., McIllroy 3 min. 2 sec., Macklin 3 min. 19 sec., Marston scratched.

The star was taken from the driver's order "Mush."

There are only four order one gives to dogs: "Mush" (probably a corruption of March or Marches) to start; "Ha", to turn left; "Gee", to turn right and the usual "Whoa" for stop. There are generally a good many unofficial orders and expletives added, but whether they really do any more than give relief to the driver's exasperation when the dogs go wrong one is unable to say.

It is extraordinary how responsive a good leader is to the order "Ha" and "Gee".

It is only the leaders who are trained to understand this order. They are no doubt selected from a very large number of dogs as being the most intelligent and they must require very considerable training. Probably they start as team dogs and the fact, that they pick up the "Ha" and "Gee" order independently of their leader is noticed by the driver, and from then onward they receive special training until proficient."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"Frank Hurley under the Bow 1" - courtesy of Shackleton Expedition Photography
"Frank Hurley under the Bow 1" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

"June, 1915. 9 & 12.

9th: A beautiful bright day. Temperature -24, minimum -27. Just one of those calm clear days when the low temperature is entirely unappreciable. It feels cold, of course, but then one expects it to be so & is prepared for it, but I am quite sure I have felt a temperature of +24 in England with a bitter east wind to be far more noticeably uncomfortable than it is here today.

I took full advantage of the weather to take some open air exercise. I am afraid I do not get nearly as much as I ought to. My duties as messman, fire tender, ice-man & so on do not give much time to get out, as I do not like bothering other people to do my job whilst I am out. I did so today however. First of all I went for a short walk to try the condition of the surface along the sledge track & finding it suitable I then went for a cycle ride but the valve runners were perished with the cold & as I found I had to blow the tyres up pretty often I returned, got my ski & went out towing behind Marston's dog sledge. This is always very enjoyable. The surface was very rough & hard, rather unsuitable for skiing & I had two spills through getting my skis crossed whilst turning.

My feet got very cold; my toes were aching with cold as one's toes often do at home, though personally I seldom suffer from cold feet. Suddenly the aching stopped & I felt a delightfully comfortable sensation in my feet. This i knew meant that several of my toes were frostbitten. I only had on sea boots & two light pairs of socks; insufficient for such a low temperature. The toe straps of the skis tend to stop the circulation which all predisposes to frostbite. I at once took my skis off & ran back - about a mile - to the ship. The offending digits soon began to return to life, but the paint was fairly acute during the process.

Breakfast - Seal's liver, porridge.

Luncheon - Pea soup (a woollen helmet was found in it just before serving!)

Dinner - Stewed seal & corn beef, cherry tart & cream.

12th: Weather same as yesterday but darker & foggier. +3.

Tonight we can hear loud pressure roaring not far off but it is too risky to go out & watch it. Firstly because it is such thick weather that one could easily get lost & secondly one liable to tread on new ice & go through the dark.

I went out earlier this afternoon when there was some dim diffused light, and went over to see the pressure on our starboard quarter i.e. to the northeast. I then made across the hummocky floe to the pressure on our starboard bow, endeavouring to strike the frozen lead right ahead of the ship which we call Northumberland Avenue and "Via Antarctica."

Walking was hardly the word for it for it was a prolonged stumble from start to finish. One absolutely cannot see the irregularities of the surface at all. One minute one stumbles into a deep drift between two pressure blocks up to ones waist in snow with ones feet in slush or water & the next minute one walks bang into a hummock the size of a cottage which is absolutely invisible at a distance of a foot. It is due to the perfect diffusion of the very dim light.  There are none of the usual shadows which throw the undulations of the surface into relief under normal conditions. The only analogy to it at home is that one builds a snowman it will be found that from certain positions and in certain lights, he becomes almost invisible against a background of snow for lack of shadows, especially most twilight.

Breakfast - Penguin steak, porridge.

Luncheon - Pearl barley broth.

Dinner - Stewed sheeps' tongues, Tapioca pudding."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

"May, 1915. 23 & 31.

23rd: This day I celebrated my birthday believing myself to be thirty-six. I don't feel it, but my friends say I look it every day.

My darling little Renee is six today also, bless her little heart. How I wish I could just hear that she is well. But that is one thing we have to bear in patience. No post, no morning budget with its surprise packets, its bills and requests for rates, etc. Well this part of the world has its advantages after all. No where else could one be so free from cares, worries and responsibilities. All one has to do is live at peace with one's comrades.

Tonight they drank my health and sang "He's a jolly good fellow." The usual thing, but good of them all the same.

"Night Ship Port side 1" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography
"Night Ship Port side 1" - courtesy of Shackleton Endurance Photography

31st: Changeable weather again. Temperature was 8F at 10:30 a.m., but -8F at noon, a drop of 16 degrees in 1 1/2 hours. Rather an unusual thing.

Imagine the temperature at home ranging from a degree above freezing point (33F) to 17F say in 1 1/2 hours. All the puddles would freeze solid in a few minutes, pipes would burst in every house and people would be getting frostbitten right and left.

General consternation and newspaper articles.

Here one grows accustomed to regarding this sort of thing with equanimity.

We are glad of the moon at noon now.

The place where the sun ought to be really gives no light worth speaking of, much less writing home about, at the same time (same time as the moon is shining) there is still a magnificent red and crimson line across the northern horizon at noon. Even this will be practically non-existent by mid-winter's day to which we are all looking forward with keen anticipation. It is the day that marks the beginning of the sun's return towards us, though we do not actually expect to see the great luminary until the middle of August! A four month's night!

It is not nearly so bad as one expected it to be. Certainly one notices a little grumpiness and irritability in one's comrades and they notice it very especially in theirs (that's the writer) and they don't forget to say so either. One has to exercise one's self-control. One may go a little further than this and try one's hand as intermediary in one or two little differences, with results that one's humble efforts as peacemaker occasionally bear fruit.

Resentment and estrangement are vile at all times but here they would entirely mar the harmony that, for the most part, exists among us."

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.

By Thomas Orde-Lees, Quartermaster

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

"February, 1915. 19

Today marks a step in my career. Was it ever so?

The cook has succumbed, appropriately enough, to housemaid's knee, and Sir Ernest, having too credulously heeded my infernal swanking on culinary matters has paid me the compliment of appointing me cook during the indisposition of Mr. Green. Thus it came to pass: Someone: "Oh Colonel (that's me) the Boss (that's Sir E.) wants to see you."

Me: (soliloq.) "What asinine thing have I done in the last 24 hrs."

I proceed with desultory knock kneedness to the boss's cabin, rapidly renewing my lurid past and inventing plausible excuses for all recent indiscretions. On arrival I stumble over the threshold of the door and make a clumsy entrance followed by an awkward announcement. Sir E. hates clumsiness and is liable to be adversely prejudiced thereby but as he is washing his hands and has his back to me he fails to perceive my approach. Instead of the expected reprimand he merely says, "You can cook, can't you, Lees." "No, I can't," I gurgle inarticulately to myself, but he mistakes my confusion for a bashful affirmative and my fate is sealed.

Oh why, oh why did I let my lying tongue run riot. Could I ever have seen such a combination of circumstances as this.

If i ever did really boost that I could cook I merely meant that, provided I had a tin opener and a toasting fork I could prepare such dishes as cold ox tongue or even a made up French savory like sardines on toast, -- camp cookery for one or two people, but that I could cook a three course dinner for a whole ships company of 28 men -- no I never said I could do that and moreover I can't and won't do it. I'll either starve them or poison them. It's a gross miscarriage of selection that I should be placed in this ridiculous position. I'm not afraid of the amount of work, I'm merely aware of my incompetence and ashamed of my indiscreet uttering. I'm not sure that it's not all a deep laid snare to show me up, as I now see, I well deserve to be.

I write this immediately after the edict has gone forth, for God knows, I am in such a state of agonized anticipation that I may not live through this day to record my sentiments at the end thereof.

I write my eyes full of tears and my heart full of fears, and dolefully proceed to the galley (how like gallows) the place where they cook, and I don't.

9 p.m. Later. Enough for the diaries! the evil thereof. The galley is small place; not enough room to swing a cat in, at least I could not swing that feline there very far as she was the first creature I met there. I vented my despair before her in trying the experiment. Soon the sick cook appeared.

I opine that the varlet malingers, but the doctor thinks otherwise. Is it conceivable that a doctor could connive a cook to bring about my downfall, but the fact that the cook has been going the doctor boiling water these last few days is more circumstantial than extenuating.

The cook and the cheek to smile at me and the impertinence to put his filthy little chef's cap on my head, simultaneously insulting me by some patronising compliment about my appropriate appearance, he assaults me with a floury hand and a rolling pin. I dismiss the knight, ordering him below.

He affects to ignore my dismissal and lingers as well as malingers, but now he shows me what preparations he has made for the day's cooking. Soup stock already on the boil, stewed seal meat already stewing - looks nasty and smells worse, an embryonic bread and butter pudding - just the bread and butter cut up into dice and put in a baking tin, and that's all.

I will do him the justice to say that he gave me every assistance and some much needed advice and a couple of stale scones to eat before he stumbled down the narrow staircase to the fo'c'sle and his bunk.

In great desperation and yearning to share my troubles with anyone I find Blackborrow - our stowaway who is now acting as pantry boy and is really a most excellent and competent young fellow. I soon find that he knows quite a lot about cooking, I confide in him that I know nothing and that I rely upon him to pull me through. He'll have a good deal  of pulling to do I'm thinking.

Sir E. has a very high opinion of him, in fact, he considers him the best man of the whole crew. It says much for his bona fides when a stowaway rises so high in the estimation of our leader for there is always a very natural prejudice against a stowaway.

Now my cooking - I taste the soup, all good cooks do thus, so there can be nothing wrong in a bad on doing so, it tastes insipid, heaven knows what it is made of, but how to rectify its insipidity is a puzzle. After some consideration a sudden rush of brains to my head prompts me to add salt and then in succession pepper, some milk and finally onion. These certainly improved it and when I served it in a state of terror it went down well enough for all members to ask for 2nd helpings of it; but I think this was mainly due to a desire to encourage me and partly to the effect of the polar air which makes gluttons of us all.

The seal stew was unimprovable so I just let it be adding a coupon of sage and celery seed to disguise its flavour and vowing to do better tomorrow. At the last minute it occurred to me that I might be able to improve it by thickening it up with flour, so I made a white roux and incorporated it with the stew. The bread and butter pudding did not tax my ingenuity much, the addition of butter to the top, egg powder, milk, currants, sugar, and a pinch of salt seemed to produce the desired effect for it too was completely consumed and some members were left asking for more and had to go without. I have determined to give a tinned breakfast and tinned tea daily so ox tongue filled the bill today.

Just as I was about to conclude my labours Blackborrow said to me, "When are you going to make the dough?" Dough indeed, am I then to make bread daily and be a baker as well as a cook. Little did I realize what I had let myself in for when I unprotestingly accepted the post this morning.

So I began to make the dough, after prolonged consultation with the lazy cook, now basking smugly in his stuffy bunk. It is an awful responsibility to have the spoiling of 12 lbs. of our valuable flour for we bake 12 loaves daily. The water added to the flour added to make the dough produces about 20 lbs. of bread from 12 lbs. of flour.

I proceed to make the dough, taking a large jug of tepid salted water and two big cup full of yeast. I work the dough up, but it doesn't look a bit like it does when the cook does it and it takes me half an hour to his quarter; at last, by constantly dredging with flour I get the dough tough enough to lift out of the galvanized bath in which I make it, turn it and put it back, cover it with a cloth and leave it on a rack over the corner of the stove for the night to enable it to rise. Before retiring I get up the various stores required for tomorrow, opening the tins of fresh herring for breakfast and bring in the seal meat placing it in an enameled bucket over the stove to thaw. So ends oh such a strenuous day.

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-Lee.

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.