The Endurance Expedition
Ernest Holness was considered by Orde-Lees
in his diary to be "the most loyal
to the expedition" though he was one of only four
of the crew not to be awarded the Polar Medal by Shackleton.
While he is described as able seaman, his duties were mainly
to act as second stoker to Stephenson and keep the fires to
provide steam for the Endurances engines.
His most memorable event of the expedition
is to have been the unfortunate individual who was sleeping
in his bag right over the crack when the ice flow the men had
been camping on split in two. He was dropped into the icy sea
and were it not for Shackleton who just happened to have been
pacing about pondering what to do about the mounting predicament,
would have been crushed when the two halves of the floe came
back together again.
"Are you alright?"
Shackleton asked. " Yes Boss! " replied a shivering
Holness. " Only trouble is I lost my bloody tobacco
in the drink!"
The only way to warm him back up again was
to keep him walking around the ice floe, and Shackleton arranged
watches where the crew took it in turns to do precisely that
for the rest of the night until his body heat warmed him back
up and drove off some of the water.
Tobacco, or a lack of it was something that
all the men were almost all affected by, but Holness perhaps
more than any. During the time on Elephant Island waiting for
rescue, as Orde-Lees described him:
"sits up in the cold
every night after everyone else has turned in, gazing intently
at Wild & McIlroy in the hopes that one of them will
give him the unsmokeable part of a toilet-paper cigarette."
It is somewhat unclear why Holness and Stephenson
were not recommended for Polar Medals by Shackleton on return
to England. Only four of the crew were not given Polar Medals,
the other two being McNish and Vincent for whom there were reasons
of a lack of loyalty and breaches of discipline that are understandable.
It is generally thought that for whatever reason, Shackleton
decided that Holness and Stephenson did not come up to the standards
that he expected. It does seem intriguing though that they happened
to be the two men whose direct jobs quite clearly ended with
the Endurance, perhaps there was some unclearness as to their
role following that event?
Ernest Holness was born in the sea port of
Hull, Yorkshire, he was one of thirteen children. His father
was unknown and Ernest was born out of wedlock. He was brought
up by his Grandparents, though his grandfather Richard Albert
Holness was lost at sea on the S.S. Boyne in 1898 when Ernest
was just 6.
Back in England after the Endurance expedition,
Holness married a Hull girl named Lillian Rose Bettles on the
12th June 1917. They lived in Hull and had two daughters and
a son. He went back to sea on the North Sea trawlers where he
was to meet his end when at the age of 31 on the 20th of September
1924 he was washed overboard and lost at sea from the trawler "Lord
Lonsdale" off the Faroe Islands, in the North Atlantic.
Some of the crew of the
Endurance photographed in Buenos Aries 1917
Robin Mackenzie -
Stornoway Historical Society
to Ernest Holness in Shackleton's book "South!"
"There are two in the
water," somebody answered. The crack had widened to
about four feet, and as I threw myself down at the edge,
I saw a whitish object floating in the water. It was a sleeping-bag
with a man inside. I was able to grasp it, and with a heave
lifted man and bag on to the floe. A few seconds later the
ice-edges came together again with tremendous force. Fortunately,
there had been but one man in the water, or the incident
might have been a tragedy. The rescued bag contained
Holness, who was wet down
to the waist but otherwise unscathed. The crack was now
opening again. The James Caird and my tent were on one side
of the opening and the remaining two boats and the rest
of the camp on the other side. With two or three men to
help me I struck my tent; then all hands manned the painter
and rushed the James Caird across the opening crack.
Clark, Robert S.
Green, Charles J.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.