In the summer of 1897, Shackleton met and became attracted to one of his sisters' friends, Emily Dorman. Ernest had just returned from a voyage to Japan aboard the FLINTSHIRE when he met the tall, dark-haired young woman "with a good figure". At the end of 1898, the FLINTSHIRE ran aground near Middlesbrough which gave him the opportunity to take leave for 24-hours in order to go home for his father's birthday on January 1. On the way, he stopped and visited The Firs, where Emily lived, and for the first time Ernest was seriously in love. Shackleton had enough of tramping to the East. To improve his standing with Emily and her father, he left the Welsh Shire Line and, early in 1899, took a position with the Union Castle Line.
The Union Castle Line belonged to the élete of the merchant service. The ships were immaculate, from their red and black funnels to their red boot topping. Used to carry mails between England and South Africa, it was the next best thing to the navy. The brasswork glistened as officers paraded in navy blue and gold braid across the decks. As a bonus, the Union Castle Line meant coming home regularly every two months instead of long and undetermined absences aboard a tramper. It was an ideal itinerary: down the Solent from Southampton, round the bulge of Africa, across the Bight of Benin, into the docks at Cape Town and back...six thousand miles each way. By December, promoted to Third Officer, Shackleton was transferred to the TINTAGEL CASTLE which was hauling troops to the Cape since, in October 1899, the Boer War had broken out. During the summer of 1900, Shackleton was in London on leave, seeing Emily when he could. Then, on September 13, Shackleton wrote to volunteer for the National Antarctic Expedition (commanded by Robert Falcon Scott), which was in the process of being organized. Four days later he visited the expedition offices in person to press home his desires. A journalist later asked Shackleton where he got the notion to become an explorer and Ernest responded, "I think it came to me during my first voyage...I felt strangely drawn towards the mysterious south...we rounded Cape Horn in the depth of winter. It was one continuous blizzard all the way...Yet many a time, even in the midst of all this discomfort, my thoughts would go out to the southward...But strangely enough, the circumstance which actually determined me to become an explorer was a dream I had when I was twenty-two. We were beating out to New York from Gibraltar, and I dreamt I was standing on the bridge in mid-Atlantic and looking northward. It was a simple dream. I seemed to vow to myself that some day I would go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns". In March, 1900, Shackleton was on his second trooping voyage to South Africa in the TINTAGEL CASTLE when he met Cedric Longstaff, a lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment. Longstaff's father, Llewellyn, happened to be the principal benefactor of the National Antarctic Expedition...he had donated £25,000 to make the expedition possible. Shackleton persuaded Cedric Longstaff to give him an introduction to his father.
The summer of 1900 was filled with uncertainty. Ernest's brother, Frank, was commissioned in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, bound for South Africa to take part in the final days, so it seemed, of the war. But front-page news was Carsten Borchgrevink, recently returned from the Antarctic where he was the first man to winter on the Antarctic continent. Shackleton's romantic imagination ran wild as he went down to Wimbledon to meet Llewellyn Longstaff. Like Shackleton, Mr. Longstaff was a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society and, besides, would always welcome anyone who had recently seen his son. He was overwhelmed by Shackleton's personality. When Shackleton asked his help in joining the expedition, Longstaff could hardly refuse. As Shackleton returned to sea, Longstaff made it clear to Sir Clements Markham that he wanted Shackleton accepted for the expedition. Sir Clements told Scott who promptly passed the matter on to Albert Armitage as he simply "had no time to attend to it". Early in March 1901, Shackleton returned to Southampton on the CARISBROOK CASTLE to find himself part of the National Antarctic Expedition. Shackleton would depart with Scott on the historic DISCOVERY EXPEDITION to Antarctica later that summer. (NOTE: the story of the National Antarctic Expedition is written, in detail, under the chapter devoted to Robert Falcon Scott).
Shackleton became seriously ill on Scott's southern sledge journey, midway through the expedition, and had to be invalided home aboard the relief ship MORNING. As Bernacchi, with Scott's DISCOVERY EXPEDITION noted, Shackleton was "deeply disappointed & would give anything to remain. Although everyone is so anxious to return this year with the DISCOVERY few are so poor spirited as to wish to return in the MORNING". On June 12,1903, after convalescing in New Zealand, Shackleton landed in England. A huge scandal had broken out about the affairs of the DISCOVERY EXPEDITION. It seems everyone was upset about Scott remaining for a second winter in the Antarctic. The organizers had explicitly said that under no circumstances was Scott to stay for a second year...it would be considered professional incompetence to allow the DISCOVERY to be frozen in, risking being crushed by the ice. Sir Clements sent a telegram to Shackleton: "The Admiralty will undertake rescue of Discovery. Committee appointed. Come to me. I wish to consult you". The expedition organizers wanted Shackleton to sail out as chief officer on the TERRA NOVA to assist the MORNING, if necessary, to get Scott and his men back home. Shackleton declined as, according to Armitage, "he meant to return and prove to Scott 'that he---Shackleton---was a better man than Scott' ". Besides, Emily had now agreed to marry him. Meanwhile, early in October Shackleton visited Sir Clements Markham, in Markhams' words, with "full plans for another expedition". Sir Clements discouraged him and Shackleton went on to join the staff of Royal Magazine as a journalist. On January 11, 1904, after a long and nerve-racking wait, Shackleton found himself elected to the desired post of secretary to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He now had a full-time job and, as he wrote to Emily, "I am so happy dearest thinking about all the times which are to be in the future...we do want to settle down and have our own house at last after all these years of waiting". In London, on April 9, Ernest Shackleton and Emily Dorman were married at Christchurch, Westminster. A week before the wedding the DISCOVERY returned to New Zealand after her second season in the ice. The record southing, in which Shackleton had participated, was still intact. When Shackleton walked up the aisle with Emily he was still one of the men who had reached the Furthest South...no finer wedding present could have been given.
a new-found gift: public speaking. He made many acquaintances as secretary
and was soon asked to run for Parliament. On November 16, 1904, the Dundee
Courier announced that Shackleton "is to uphold the Unionist
cause in the next election". On February 2, 1905, Emily gave birth
to their first child, a boy. This was exciting but, unfortunately, he
had no income...in mid-January he had resigned his position at the RSGS
to further his political career. He subsequently finished in fourth place
in the election. A time of uncertainty would prevail until early in 1907.
On Monday, February 11, Shackleton was in London at the RGS. In the same
room stood Roald Amundsen and
Fridtjof Nansen...it was an extraordinary scene. Shackleton had come to
ask for the support of the RGS and the patronage of the King...he planned
on spending the next winter in Antarctica and he only had six months to
In the Geographical Journal for March, 1907, Shackleton outlined his plans, some of which subsequently had to be changed. The expedition was expected to leave New Zealand at the beginning of 1908 and proceed to winter quarters on the Antarctic continent. Here the men and stores would be landed, followed quickly by the retreat of the ship to New Zealand to prevent her from being frozen in. Shackleton announced, "The shore-party of nine or twelve men will winter with sufficient equipment to enable three separate parties to start out in the spring. One party will go east, and, if possible, across the Barrier to the new land known as King Edward VII Land, follow the coastline there south, if the coast trends south, or north if north, returning when it is considered necessary to do so. The second party will proceed south over the same route as that of the southern sledge-party of the DISCOVERY; this party will keep from fifteen to twenty miles from the coast, so as to avoid any rough ice. The third party will possibly proceed westward over the mountains, and, instead of crossing in a line due west, will strike towards the magnetic Pole. The main changes in equipment will be that Siberian ponies will be taken for the sledge journeys both east and south, and also a specially designed motor-car for the southern journey...I do not intend to sacrifice the scientific utility of the expedition to a mere record-breaking journey, but say frankly, all the same, that one of my great efforts will be to reach the southern geographical Pole. I shall in no way neglect to continue the biological, meteorological, geological and magnetic work of the DISCOVERY".
The first step was to secure an office in London. A furnished room at 9 Regent Street served as headquarters of the expedition. The staff consisted of Mr. Alfred Reid, who had gained considerable experience in connection with previous polar adventures, and a district messenger. Fortunately, there was a typing office on the same floor which could deal with the correspondence which grew from day to day. Shackleton secured estimates for the supplies from a number of different companies as he wanted the best of everything possible. Shackleton stipulated that all the goods were to be delivered in London by June 15, for the ship was to leave England on June 30. As for the ship, Shackleton's first choice was the BJORN, owned by Mr. C. Christiansen. The BJORN was a new ship, built specially for polar work, but was simply too expensive to purchase. Instead, when Shackleton returned to London after visiting Christiansen in Sandyfjord, the purchase of the NIMROD was made. At the time, the NIMROD was on a sealing venture, out of Newfoundland, but was expected to return very soon. The ship was small and old and her maximum speed under steam was hardly more than six knots, but on the other hand, she was strongly built. The NIMROD did not return as soon as Shackleton expected and when she did arrive, she had been somewhat damaged by the ice. She was inspected on Shackleton's behalf and pronounced sound. A rapid transit was made across the Atlantic and the ship arrived in the Thames on June 15, 1907. Shackleton was very disappointed when he first inspected the ship; she was run down and smelt strongly of seal-oil. In addition, she required new caulking and masts. As work began on the NIMROD, Shackleton contracted Messrs. Humphreys, of Knightsbridge, to construct the hut in which to live during the Antarctic winter. The hut would be shipped in sections aboard the NIMROD. It was made of stout fir timbering of best quality in the walls, roofs and floors. The walls were strengthened with iron cleats bolted to main posts and horizontal timbering, and the roof was reinforced with iron tie rods. The hut was lined with match-boarding and the walls and roof were covered first with strong felt, then one-inch tongued and grooved boards, followed by an additional covering of felt. Granulated cork was used as insulation. The hut was to be erected on wooden piles, driven into the ice, with rings attached to the roof so that guy ropes could be used to give additional resistance to the gales.
"The personnel of an expedition of the character I proposed is a factor on which success depends to a very large extent. The men selected must be qualified for the work, and they must also have the special qualifications required to meet polar conditions. They must be able to live together in harmony for a long period without outside communication, and it must be remembered that the men whose desires lead them to the untrodden paths of the world have generally marked individuality", Shackleton wrote. The staff:
Gales accompanied the ships on the journey south and on January 14 the first iceberg was sighted. The next day the pack ice was sighted off the starboard bow extending all the way to the port bow. A short time later the NIMROD was on her own as the KOONYA'S tow-line was cast off.
After navigating through dense clusters of bergs, the NIMROD entered the Ross Sea on January 16, the first ship to do so without the vessel having been held up by pack-ice. January 17 found them at 70°43'S, 178°58'E. The NIMROD skirted the Barrier until January 25 at which time Shackleton gave up all hope of reaching King Edward VII Land. The pack-ice was too thick as well as being interspersed with giant icebergs. It seemed impossible to reach land, and the shortness of coal, the leaky condition of the ship, and the absolute necessity of landing all the stores and putting up the hut before the vessel left them made the situation extremely anxious for Shackleton. Fearing becoming trapped in the ice, Shackleton could see no option other than steering for McMurdo Sound. At 8 P.M. she turned to the west and on January 28 they entered McMurdo Sound. Around midnight, the frozen sea stopped them some 20 miles short of Hut Point; the ice anchor was dropped and made fast to the floe. Shackleton decided to lay off the ice-foot for a few days to give Nature a chance to break up the ice. Meanwhile, on the evening of the 29th, the sides and top of the motor-car case were removed and the wheels put on the car. On the 30th most of the beams of the pony shelter were removed so the ponies could be removed without difficulty at a moments notice. Most of them were in very poor shape and one, "Nimrod", had to be shot.
As the sun began to set in March, tiny details of the daily routine became major events. The weather was an important factor of everyday life; in a blizzard the chores of emptying dishwater and ashes and getting fresh ice became small feats of endurance. Night watchmans' duties were rotated every two weeks. Two men were exempted from these duties: Roberts, who was the cook, and Sir Philip Brocklehurst, whose toes were still black with frostbite (one later amputated by Marshall) after his climb of Mount Erebus. (NOTE: The successful ascent of Mount Erebus was one of the first accomplishments of the expedition. Six men, among them Douglas Mawson, measured the crater. They quickly descended by sliding down the 5000 feet in four hours). The others tended to their specialties: Adams wound the chronometers, checked instruments and did other meteorological work; Marshall, the surgeon, tended to medical needs and exercised ponies; Wild, the storekeeper, issued food to the cook, opened the cases of tinned food and dug the meat out of the snowdrifts (penguin, seal or mutton); Joyce fed the dogs and trained them for sledge-pulling; David spent time on geological studies; Priestley and Murray worked at dredging; Mawson studied the aurora, ice structures and measured atmospheric electricity.
By midwinter, activity had declined to a lazy pace, as compared to the torrid one set earlier. Most of the men now stayed up late and Professor David, more of a late-night person than the others, organized an 11 o'clock tea. Nearly all were sound asleep by 1 am. First up at 7:30 am would be Roberts, to start breakfast, and Armitage, to feed the ponies. At 8:30 am the rest would get up and at 8:45 the table was lowered from the roof. At 9:00 they all sat down to porridge and hot milk. Occasionally a second course would follow consisting of bottled fruit and tea, followed by a smoke. Lunch was at 1:00 PM and dinner was at 6:45 sharp. On birthdays and midwinter's day (June 21), they broke the rules and celebrated with what Shackleton described as "a sort of mild spree". Optimism was high through the six-month night. "We were all busy and there was little cause for us to find the time hung heavy on our hands; the winter months sped by". Evidently, the men were actually thrilled when winter ended since they were obviously getting on each others' nerves. One night, as Marshall writes, Wild "showed sign of being drunk, & was anxious to make a row, but after a little while persuaded him to turn in. Was seriously thinking of getting him outside to give me a hand with the ponies & then giving him a damn good hammering, as he was becoming very talkative and objectionable & Shacks was evidently afraid to come out and stop him, although awake and hearing all said". At the beginning of August, Mackay suddenly went for Roberts, the cook, with whom he shared a cubicle. It seems that Roberts put his feet on Mackay's chest to lace up his boots. Mackay, much bigger and stronger, tried to wring Robert's neck and may have succeeded if Mawson, who was bigger and stronger still, hadn't stepped in. In Priestley's words, it was "lucky evidently that the Winter (was) almost over instead of just beginning". In Marshall's version, Shackleton was "in a regular panic about it & threatens he will shoot (Mackay). This is the 2nd time he has said (so). He is so easily frightened that he is not to be trusted with a pistol...Mac quite all right but slightly eccentric & quick tempered".
Spring arrived and the plans, worked out over the winter, were ready to be launched. Shackleton, Adams, Marshall and Wild would head south for the Pole, a 1700-mile trek; Edgeworth David (aged 50) would lead the Northern Party on a 1260-mile journey towards the South Magnetic Pole, with Mackay (aged 30) and Mawson (aged 26) as teammates. The Northern Party had no experience of polar exploration. They would have to pull sledges and supplies without the help of dogs or ponies. At the start, they used the motor car to establish two depots 10 and 15 miles from the hut on Cape Royds. On September 25 the engine overheated and they actually had to wait in the blistering cold for it to cool down. When the party finally left winter quarters the next day, Mackay's wrist was in a sling after an accident with the car's starter. It seemed a rather ominous beginning to a journey into the unknown with the doctor's arm in a sling! By November 1 they were becoming worried at the rate the rations were diminishing. Appetite consumed them but by November 5 they limited themselves to one plasmon biscuit each for breakfast and dinner, discovering in the process that "we had never before fully realised how very nice those plasmon biscuits were". The three explorers used the traditional method for dividing food: the cook would put three biscuits on the cooker cover, then point to one, asking one of the others with his back turned, "Whose?" By this means there would be no opportunity to create a squabble over who was getting the biggest portion. In the beginning, no attention was paid to the crumbs; by early November they were breaking their biscuits over their pannikins to make sure they left no precious crumbs. Even their conversation was dominated by food as David wrote, "We could discuss nothing but the different dishes with which we had been regaled in our former lifetime at various famous restaurants and hotels".
On December 11, a mile short of the Drygalski Ice Tongue, David fell into a crevasse only 20 feet from their tent. He managed to save himself, catching the edge on either side but needed Mawson's assistance, with an ice ax, to pull him out. The next day it was Mackay's turn. While hunting for emperor penguins he fell through an ice bridge up to his waist in water. On December 20, Mawson had a brush with death. David heard a "slight crash" and noticed that Mawson had disappeared. David and Mackay found him dangling over a deep crevasse, suspended by his harness attached to the sledge rope. Mawson, ever the curious scientist, took the opportunity to inspect the ice crystals on the crevasse wall. David wrote, "After this episode we were extra cautious in crossing the crevasses, but the ice was simply seamed with them. Twice when our sledge was being dragged up ice-pressure ridges it rolled over sideways with one runner in a crevasse and once the whole sledge all but disappeared into a crevasse...Had it gone down completely it would certainly have dragged the three of us down with it, as it weighed nearly one-third of a ton".
On Christmas day, David and Mawson offered Mackay, who was suffering from snow-blindness, some sennegrass--dried Norwegian grass they used to line their boots--as substitute pipe tobacco. It was the only gift they had to offer. The sun and cold temperatures constantly wreaked havoc with the men. Mawson's right cheek and the tip of David's nose were frostbitten while the sun burned David's hands. The cold stripped skin from their lips and Mawson woke each morning with his mouth glued shut from congealed blood. As they neared the magnetic pole, David wrote, "The heavy runners of the sledge rustled gently as they crushed the crystals by the thousand". On January 15,1909, Mawson's compass was only 15 minutes off the vertical.
There was the dear old NIMROD, not a quarter of a mile away, steaming straight towards us up the inlet..." Mackay shouted to the ship, "Mawson has fallen down a crevasse, and we got to the Magnetic Pole!" By the afternoon the men were enjoying tea aboard the NIMROD. Later they enjoyed their first bath in over four months, followed by a wonderful dinner. As the men went to bed, David wrote, "None but those whose bed for months has been on snow and ice can realise the luxury of a real bunk, blankets and pillow, in a snug little cabin". They had traveled 1260 miles with no dogs or ponies in the coldest place on earth. Upon completion of the trek, David felt they could have done it in half the time with a team of dogs. "We pioneered a route to the magnetic pole and we hope that the path thus found will prove of use to future observers".
As for Shackleton and the South Pole crew, their journey began at 10 am, under a cloudless sky with the wind at their backs, on October 29, 1908. At lunchtime, one of the Manchurian ponies, "Grisi", kicked Adams just below the kneecap and exposed the bone. This was not a good beginning. Even the light played tricks with them. When clouds and mist blocked the sun, they could see no shadows. As a result, ledges, mounds and gullies disappeared into a dead, flat white plain. Crevasses were difficult to spot. Covered only by fragile snowcrust, they were often so deep they could not see the bottom nor hear an echo from an object they dropped into them. On November 5 Wild, Adams, Marshall and "Grisi" were all rescued from crevasses---Marshall twice. Three days later Marshall and Wild pitched their tent right next to an unseen crevasse. The next day another pony slipped into an abyss and was fortunately saved from the brink of death. As with David and his men, Shackleton's party also experienced deep hunger. Three weeks out Shackleton complained in his diary about the size of their rations...if they were this hungry now, what will it be like "later when we are really hungry?" They shot "Chinaman", the weakest pony, on November 21, ate some of the meat and laid a depot with the rest for when they returned. Adams, unable to sleep for days from a toothache, let Marshall extract it without the use of tooth-pulling equipment. After 29 days, on November 26, they passed the previous "furthest south" record set by Robert Scott in 1902. In early December two more ponies were shot. Shackleton, with his soft heart for animals, believed he heard the last pony, "Socks", whinnying "all night for his lost companions". They started eating pony maize. Shackleton remained optimistic, reporting on December 11 that, "Difficulties are just things to overcome, after all". Christmas was celebrated at 9500 feet with plum pudding, medical brandy, cocoa, a spoonful of créme de menthe and cigars. They still had 250 miles between themselves and the pole, with only three weeks' biscuits left. "Tomorrow we will throw away everything except the most absolute necessities", Shackleton wrote. "Everytime we reach the top of a ridge we say 'perhaps this is the last', but it never is the last", he wrote. On December 27th they reached the polar plateau at an altitude of 10,200 feet. The weather was severe as a strong headwind chilled them to the bone. On December 30 a blizzard held them to only 4 miles traveling. They were weak from a lack of food and their hands and feet were always on the verge of frostbite. By January 2, 1909, Shackleton was near the breaking point. "I cannot think of failure yet. I must look at the matter sensibly and consider the lives of those who are with me...man can only do his best..." Two days later he wrote, "The end is in sight. We can only go for three more days at the most, for we are weakening rapidly". They fought through a blizzard on January 4, 5 and 6. On January 7, only 100 miles from the pole, a howling blizzard kept them in their sleeping bags all day. It was the same on January 8. The end of their southern journey began at 4 am on January 9. They left the sledge, tent and food at the camp and took only the Union Jack, a brass cylinder containing stamps and documents to mark their farthest south, camera, glasses and a compass. Their farthest south was reached at 9 am: 88°23'S, longitude 162°--just 97 miles from the South Pole.
When they arrived, they found a letter telling them that the NIMROD had picked up the magnetic pole party and would shelter near the glacier tongue until February 26. It was now February 28. After a bad night, they burned the magnetic hut and shortly thereafter the NIMROD appeared. By 11 am they were on board and three hours later Shackleton led a rescue party for Marshall and Adams. At 1 am on March 4, all were safe on board the NIMROD; they had walked 1700 miles.
The winter season was approaching. McMurdo Sound was already white and choked with the freezing sea. As Mackay put it, "So the end of the business is that (we are) homeward bound, bumping our way through this season's ice, which is the form of pantiles, some three or four inches thick. I have left a great many things behind that I am very sorry to lose". As the NIMROD sailed past Cape Royds, Shackleton wrote that, "we all turned out to give three cheers and to take a last look at the place where we had spent so many happy days. The hut was not exactly a palatial residence...but, on the other hand it had been our home for a year that would always live in our memories...We watched the little hut fade away in the distance with feelings almost of sadness, and there were few men aboard who did not cherish a hope that some day they would once more live strenuous days under the shadow of mighty Erebus".
Shackleton's Hut at Cape Royds
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