Frank Arthur Worsley
Captain of the
Quest- Ernest Shackleton 1921 - 1922
The Endurance Expedition
Frank Worsley was pleasingly possessed of some eccentricities - claiming that
his cabin was too stuffy, for instance, and sleeping every night on
the passageway floor.
1931 book "Endurance" Frank Worsley writes:
"One night I dreamed that Burlington Street
was full of ice blocks and that I was navigating a ship along it.
Next morning I awoke and hurried along to Burlington Street. A sign
on a door caught my eye. It bore the words "Imperial Trans-Antarctic
Expedition". I turned into the building, Shackleton was there, and
after a few minutes conversation he announced "Your Engaged"
In 1914 at the age of 42, he joined Shackleton's 1914-17
"Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition" as the master of the Endurance,
the expedition ship. As a captain of a ship however, his skills were
somewhat stretched, by the time Shackleton joined the ship at South
America, Worsley was effectively made second in command due to his
handling of indiscipline
and inappropriate behaviour in the crew. True to form however, this
was handled diplomatically by Shackleton and effectively played
down, Worsley would move than prove his worth later in the expedition.
When the Endurance was lost, crushed by the pack ice
in the Weddell Sea, Worsley took charge of one of the lifeboats, the
Dudley Docker and guided the crew towards a distant speck on the far
distant and unseen speck on the horizon that was Elephant Island. Shortly after arriving
on Elephant Island, Worsley accompanied Shackleton and a small party
on another lifeboat, the James Caird on a sixteen day journey to South
Georgia to fetch help for the rest of the men stranded on Elephant Island.
This was a remarkable feat of navigation as well as
of seamanship and perseverance by the men. Worsley was only able to
take a navigational reading every few days due to weather conditions,
a small error would have meant the James Caird heading into open ocean
with no hope of rescue for anyone.
Frank Worsley was a New Zealander, born in Akaroa.
He became an apprentice to the merchant navy at the age of 15 serving
on both sailing and steam ships.
He returned to sea after the expedition, commanding
"Q boats" in the First World War - anti-submarine boats disguised as
merchant shipping. He was twice decorated for anti-submarine action,
once with the D.S.O.
Worsley, known to his
intimates as Depth-Charge Bill, owing to his success with that
particular method of destroying German submarines, has the
Distinguished Service Order and three submarines to his credit.
Shackleton - "South!"
Worsley became part of the North Russia
Expeditionary Force at the request of Shackleton In late October
1918. This was an Endurance reunion as Shackleton, Wild , Macklin,
Hussey and McIlroy were also part of the same force. Worsley won the
D.S.O. for the second time for leading a daring land raid against
On my return, after the
rescue of the survivors of the Ross Sea Party, I offered my
services to the Government, and was sent on a mission to South
America. When this was concluded I was commissioned as Major and
went to North Russia in charge of Arctic Equipment and
Transport, having with me Worsley, Stenhouse, Hussey, Macklin,
and Brocklehurst, who was to have come South with us, but who,
as a regular officer, rejoined his unit on the outbreak of war.
He has been wounded three times and was in the retreat from Mons.
Worsley was sent across to the Archangel front, where he did
excellent work, and the others served with me on the Murmansk
front. The mobile columns there had exactly the same clothing,
equipment, and sledging food as we had on the Expedition. No
expense was spared to obtain the best of everything for them,
and as a result not a single case of avoidable frost-bite was
After the war, he was involved in Shackleton's last
expedition on the Quest, cut short by Shackleton's death on South Georgia.
Like Shackleton, Worsley was bad with his own finances and for
several years earned money by giving lectures about the Endurance
expedition, he commentated on Shackleton's film "South" released in
In 1925 he
became joint leader of an Arctic expedition to Franz Josef Land and
1935 was part of a treasure hunting expedition in the Cocos Islands.
Despite retiring from the sea in 1939, he remained
a Royal naval reserve officer and continued to instruct at the Royal
Naval College in Greenwich until his death in 1943. He had secured a
job on a merchant ship called the "Dalriada" working at Sheerness in
1941 by lying about his age, he claimed to be just 65, when he
really was 70!, unfortunately he lost the job once found out.
He died of cancer of the
lung in February 1943, just a few days after diagnosis. His was cremation at Woking
and the memorial service at Greenwich College Chapel was as grand
an affair as would expected for someone with Worsley's maritime
history. His ashes were scattered at sea near the mouth of the River
References to Frank Worsley
in Shackleton's book "South!"
- The situation became dangerous that
night. We pushed into the pack in the hope of reaching
open water beyond, and found ourselves after dark in a
pool which was growing smaller and smaller. The ice was
grinding around the ship in the heavy swell, and I
watched with some anxiety for any indication of a change
of wind to the east, since a breeze from that quarter
would have driven us towards the land.
Worsley and I were on deck
all night, dodging the pack. At 3 a.m. we ran south,
taking advantage of some openings that had appeared, but
met heavy rafted pack-ice, evidently old; some of it had
been subjected to severe pressure.
- A lizard-like head
would show while the killer gazed along the floe with
wicked eyes. Then the brute would dive, to come up a few
moments later, perhaps, under some unfortunate seal
reposing on the ice. Worsley
examined a spot where a killer had smashed a hole 8 ft.
by 12 ft. in 12˝ in. of hard ice, covered by 2˝ in. of
snow. Big blocks of ice had been tossed on to the floe
surface. Wordie, engaged in measuring the thickness of
young ice, went through to his waist one day just as a
killer rose to blow in the adjacent lead. His companions
pulled him out hurriedly.
- Worsley took a party to the
floe on the 26th and started building a line of igloos
and "dogloos" round the ship. These little buildings
were constructed, Esquimaux fashion, of big blocks of
ice, with thin sheets for the roofs. Boards or frozen
sealskins were placed over all, snow was piled on top
and pressed into the joints, and then water was thrown
over the structures to make everything firm. The ice was
packed down flat inside and covered with snow for the
dogs, which preferred, however, to sleep outside except
when the weather was extraordinarily severe. The
tethering of the dogs was a simple matter. The end of a
chain was buried about eight inches in the snow, some
fragments of ice were pressed around it, and a little
water poured over all. The icy breath of the Antarctic
cemented it in a few moments.
- I took
the ship back over our course for four miles, to a point
where some looser pack gave faint promise of a way
through; but, after battling for three hours with very
heavy hummocked ice and making four miles to the south,
we were brought up by huge blocks and floes of very old
pack. Further effort seemed useless at that time, and I
gave the order to bank fires after we had moored the
Endurance to a solid floe. The weather was clear, and
some enthusiastic football-players had a game on the
floe until, about midnight, Worsley dropped through a hole in rotten ice
while retrieving the ball. He had to be retrieved
- The Endurance made some progress on
the following day. Long leads of open water ran towards
the south-west, and the ship smashed at full speed
through occasional areas of young ice till brought up
with a heavy thud against a section of older floe.
Worsley was out on the
jib-boom end for a few minutes while Wild was conning
the ship, and he came back with a glowing account of a
novel sensation. The boom was swinging high and low and
from side to side, while the massive bows of the ship
smashed through the ice, splitting it across, piling it
mass on mass and then shouldering it aside. The air
temperature was 37° Fahr., pleasantly warm, and the
water temperature 29° Fahr.
- "Since noon the character of the pack
has improved," wrote Worsley
on this day. "Though the leads are short, the floes are
rotten and easily broken through if a good place is
selected with care and judgment. In many cases we find
large sheets of young ice through which the ship cuts
for a mile or two miles at a stretch. I have been
conning and working the ship from the crow's-nest and
find it much the best place, as from there one can see
ahead and work out the course beforehand, and can also
guard the rudder and propeller, the most vulnerable
parts of a ship in the ice. At midnight, as I was
sitting in the ‘tub' I heard a clamorous noise down on
the deck, with ringing of bells, and realized that it
was the New Year." Worsley
came down from his lofty seat and met Wild, Hudson, and
myself on the bridge, where we shook hands and wished
one another a happy and successful New Year. Since
entering the pack on December 11 we had come 480 miles,
through loose and close pack-ice.
- The two subjects of most interest to
us were our rate of drift and the weather.
Worsley took observations
of the sun whenever possible, and his results showed
conclusively that the drift of our floe was almost
entirely dependent upon the winds and not much affected
by currents. Our hope, of course, was to drift
northwards to the edge of the pack and then, when the
ice was loose enough, to take to the boats and row to
the nearest land. We started off in fine style, drifting
north about twenty miles in two or three days in a
howling south-westerly blizzard.
- The increasing sea made it necessary
for us to drag the boats farther up the beach. This was
a task for all hands, and after much labour we got the
boats into safe positions among the rocks and made fast
the painters to big boulders. Then I discussed with Wild
and Worsley the chances of
reaching South Georgia before the winter locked the seas
against us. Some effort had to be made to secure relief.
Privation and exposure had left their mark on the party,
and the health and mental condition of several men were
causing me serious anxiety. Blackborow's feet, which
had been frost-bitten during the boat journey, were in a
bad way, and the two doctors feared that an operation
would be necessary.
- The case required to be argued in
some detail, since all hands knew that the perils of the
proposed journey were extreme. The risk was justified
solely by our urgent need of assistance. The ocean south
of Cape Horn in the middle of May is known to be the
most tempestuous storm-swept area of water in the world.
The weather then is unsettled, the skies are dull and
overcast, and the gales are almost unceasing. We had to
face these conditions in a small and weather-beaten
boat, already strained by the work of the months that
had passed. Worsley and
Wild realized that the attempt must be made, and they
both asked to be allowed to accompany me on the voyage.
I told Wild at once that he would have to stay behind. I
relied upon him to hold the party together while I was
away and to make the best of his way to Deception Island
with the men in the spring in the event of our failure
to bring help. Worsley I
would take with me, for I had a very high opinion of his
accuracy and quickness as a navigator, and especially in
the snapping and working out of positions in difficult
circumstances—an opinion that was only enhanced during
the actual journey. Four other men would be required,
and I decided to call for volunteers, although, as a
matter of fact, I pretty well knew which of the people I
would select. Crean I proposed to leave on the island as
a right-hand man for Wild, but he begged so hard to be
allowed to come in the boat that, after consultation
with Wild, I promised to take him. I called the men
together, explained my plan, and asked for volunteers.
Many came forward at once. Some were not fit enough for
the work that would have to be done, and others would
not have been much use in the boat since they were not
seasoned sailors, though the experiences of recent
months entitled them to some consideration as seafaring
men. McIlroy and Macklin were both anxious to go but
realized that their duty lay on the island with the sick
men. They suggested that I should take Blackborow in
order that he might have shelter and warmth as quickly
as possible, but I had to veto this idea. It would be
hard enough for fit men to live in the boat. Indeed, I
did not see how a sick man, lying helpless in the bottom
of the boat, could possibly survive in the heavy weather
we were sure to encounter. I finally selected McNeish,
McCarthy, and Vincent in addition to
Worsley and Crean. The crew
seemed a strong one, and as I looked at the men I felt
- The decision made, I walked through the blizzard with
Worsley and Wild to examine
the James Caird. The 20-ft. boat had never looked big;
she appeared to have shrunk in some mysterious way when
I viewed her in the light of our new undertaking. She
was an ordinary ship's whaler, fairly strong, but
showing signs of the strains she had endured since the
crushing of the Endurance.
- The weather was fine on April 23, and
we hurried forward our preparations. It was on this day
I decided finally that the crew for the James Caird
should consist of Worsley,
Crean, McNeish, McCarthy, Vincent, and myself. A storm
came on about noon, with driving snow and heavy squalls.
Occasionally the air would clear for a few minutes, and
we could see a line of pack-ice, five miles out, driving
across from west to east. This sight increased my
anxiety to get away quickly. Winter was advancing, and
soon the pack might close completely round the island
and stay our departure for days or even for weeks, I did
not think that ice would remain around Elephant Island
continuously during the winter, since the strong winds
and fast currents would keep it in motion. We had
noticed ice and bergs, going past at the rate of four or
five knots. A certain amount of ice was held up about
the end of our spit, but the sea was clear where the
boat would have to be launched.
- Worsley, Wild, and I
climbed to the summit of the seaward rocks and examined
the ice from a better vantage-point than the beach
offered. The belt of pack outside appeared to be
sufficiently broken for our purposes, and I decided
that, unless the conditions forbade it, we would make a
start in the James Caird on the following morning.
Obviously the pack might close at any time. This
decision made, I spent the rest of the day looking over
the boat, gear, and stores, and discussing plans with
Worsley and Wild.
- We held the boat up to the gale
during that day, enduring as best we could discomforts
that amounted to pain. The boat tossed interminably on
the big waves under grey, threatening skies. Our
thoughts did not embrace much more than the necessities
of the hour. Every surge of the sea was an enemy to be
watched and circumvented. We ate our scanty meals,
treated our frost-bites, and hoped for the improved
conditions that the morrow might bring. Night fell
early, and in the lagging hours of darkness we were
cheered by a change for the better in the weather. The
wind dropped, the snow-squalls became less frequent, and
the sea moderated. When the morning of the seventh day
dawned there was not much wind. We shook the reef out of
the sail and laid our course once more for South
Georgia. The sun came out bright and clear, and
presently Worsley got a
snap for longitude. We hoped that the sky would remain
clear until noon, so that we could get the latitude. We
had been six days out without an observation, and our
dead reckoning naturally was uncertain. The boat must
have presented a strange appearance that morning. All
hands basked in the sun. We hung our sleeping-bags to
the mast and spread our socks and other gear all over
the deck. Some of the ice had melted off the James Caird
in the early morning after the gale began to slacken;
and dry patches were appearing in the decking. Porpoises
came blowing round the boat, and Cape pigeons wheeled
and swooped within a few feet of us. These little
black-and-white birds have an air of friendliness that
is not possessed by the great circling albatross. They
had looked grey against the swaying sea during the storm
as they darted about over our heads and uttered their
plaintive cries. The albatrosses, of the black or sooty
variety, had watched with hard, bright eyes, and seemed
to have a quite impersonal interest in our struggle to
keep afloat amid the battering seas. In addition to the
Cape pigeons an occasional stormy petrel flashed
overhead. Then there was a small bird, unknown to me,
that appeared always to be in a fussy, bustling state,
quite out of keeping with the surroundings. It irritated
me. It had practically no tail, and it flitted about
vaguely as though in search of the lost member. I used
to find myself wishing it would find its tail and have
done with the silly fluttering.
- We revelled in the warmth of the sun that day. Life was
not so bad, after all. We felt we were well on our way.
Our gear was drying, and we could have a hot meal in
comparative comfort. The swell was still heavy, but it
was not breaking and the boat rode easily. At noon
Worsley balanced himself on
the gunwale and clung with one hand to the stay of the
mainmast while he got a snap of the sun. The result was
more than encouraging. We had done over 380 miles and
were getting on for half-way to South Georgia. It looked
as though we were going to get through.
- On the tenth night
Worsley could not
straighten his body after his spell at the tiller. He
was thoroughly cramped, and we had to drag him beneath
the decking and massage him before he could unbend
himself and get into a sleeping-bag. A hard
north-westerly gale came up on the eleventh day (May 5)
and shifted to the south-west in the late afternoon. The
sky was overcast and occasional snow-squalls added to
the discomfort produced by a tremendous cross-sea—the
worst, I thought, that we had experienced. At midnight I
was at the tiller and suddenly noticed a line of clear
sky between the south and south-west. I called to the
other men that the sky was clearing, and then a moment
later I realized that what I had seen was not a rift in
the clouds but the white crest of an enormous wave.
During twenty-six years' experience of the ocean in all
its moods I had not encountered a wave so gigantic. It
was a mighty upheaval of the ocean, a thing quite apart
from the big white-capped seas that had been our
tireless enemies for many days. I shouted, "For God's
sake, hold on! It's got us!" Then came a moment of
suspense that seemed drawn out into hours. White surged
the foam of the breaking sea around us. We felt our boat
lifted and flung forward like a cork in breaking surf.
We were in a seething chaos of tortured water; but
somehow the boat lived through it, half-full of water,
sagging to the dead weight and shuddering under the
blow. We baled with the energy of men fighting for life,
flinging the water over the sides with every receptacle
that came to our hands, and after ten minutes of
uncertainty we felt the boat renew her life beneath us.
She floated again and ceased to lurch drunkenly as
though dazed by the attack of the sea. Earnestly we
hoped that never again would we encounter such a wave.
- Shortly before midnight a gale sprang
up suddenly from the north-east with rain and sleet
showers. It brought quantities of glacier-ice into the
cove, and by 2 a.m. (May 12) our little harbour was
filled with ice, which surged to and fro in the swell
and pushed its way on to the beach. We had solid rock
beneath our feet and could watch without anxiety. When
daylight came rain was falling heavily, and the
temperature was the highest we had experienced for many
months. The icicles overhanging our cave were melting
down in streams and we had to move smartly when passing
in and out lest we should be struck by falling lumps. A
fragment weighing fifteen or twenty pounds crashed down
while we were having breakfast. We found that a big hole
had been burned in the bottom of
Worsley's reindeer sleeping-bag during the night.
Worsley had been awakened
by a burning sensation in his feet, and had asked the
men near him if his bag was all right; they looked and
could see nothing wrong. We were all superficially
frostbitten about the feet, and this condition caused
the extremities to burn painfully, while at the same
time sensation was lost in the skin.
Worsley thought that the
uncomfortable heat of his feet was due to the
frost-bites, and he stayed in his bag and presently went
to sleep again. He discovered when he turned out in the
morning that the tussock-grass which we had laid on the
floor of the cave had smouldered outwards from the fire
and had actually burned a large hole in the bag beneath
his feet. Fortunately, his feet were not harmed.
- During the morning of this day (May
13) Worsley and I tramped
across the hills in a north-easterly direction with the
object of getting a view of the sound and possibly
gathering some information that would be useful to us in
the next stage of our journey. It was exhausting work,
but after covering about 2˝ miles in two hours, we were
able to look east, up the bay. We could not see very
much of the country that we would have to cross in order
to reach the whaling-station on the other side of the
island. We had passed several brooks and frozen tarns,
and at a point where we had to take to the beach on the
shore of the sound we found some wreckage—an 18-ft.
pine-spar (probably part of a ship's topmast), several
pieces of timber, and a little model of a ship's hull,
evidently a child's toy. We wondered what tragedy that
pitiful little plaything indicated. We encountered also
some gentoo penguins and a young sea-elephant, which
- A fresh west-south-westerly breeze
was blowing on the following morning (Wednesday, May
17), with misty squalls, sleet, and rain. I took
Worsley with me on a
pioneer journey to the west with the object of examining
the country to be traversed at the beginning of the
overland journey. We went round the seaward end of the
snouted glacier, and after tramping about a mile over
stony ground and snow-coated debris, we crossed some big
ridges of scree and moraines. We found that there was
good going for a sledge as far as the north-east corner
of the bay, but did not get much information regarding
the conditions farther on owing to the view becoming
obscured by a snow-squall. We waited a quarter of an
hour for the weather to clear but were forced to turn
back without having seen more of the country. I had
satisfied myself, however, that we could reach a good
snow-slope leading apparently to the inland ice.
Worsley reckoned from the
chart that the distance from our camp to Husvik, on an
east magnetic course, was seventeen geographical miles,
but we could not expect to follow a direct line. The
carpenter started making a sledge for use on the
overland journey. The materials at his disposal were
limited in quantity and scarcely suitable in quality.
- We overhauled our gear on Thursday, May 18; and hauled
our sledge to the lower edge of the snouted glacier. The
vehicle proved heavy and cumbrous. We had to lift it
empty over bare patches of rock along the shore, and I
realized that it would be too heavy for three men to
manage amid the snow-plains, glaciers, and peaks of the
interior. Worsley and Crean
were coming with me, and after consultation we decided
to leave the sleeping-bags behind us and make the
journey in very light marching order. We would take
three days' provisions for each man in the form of
sledging ration and biscuit. The food was to be packed
in three sacks, so that each member of the party could
carry his own supply. Then we were to take the Primus
lamp filled with oil, the small cooker, the carpenter's
adze (for use as an ice-axe), and the alpine rope, which
made a total length of fifty feet when knotted. We might
have to lower ourselves down steep slopes or cross
crevassed glaciers. The filled lamp would provide six
hot meals, which would consist of sledging ration boiled
up with biscuit. There were two boxes of matches left,
one full and the other partially used. We left the full
box with the men at the camp and took the second box,
which contained forty-eight matches. I was unfortunate
as regarded footgear, since I had given away my heavy
Burberry boots on the floe, and had now a comparatively
light pair in poor condition. The carpenter assisted me
by putting several screws in the sole of each boot with
the object of providing a grip on the ice. The screws
came out of the James Caird.
Landmarks named after Frank Arthur Worsley
Feature Type: Class: Glacier
Description: Icefalls near the head of Nimrod Glacier.
Feature Name: Mount
Feature Type: Summit
Description: Mountain, 1,105 m, on the W side of Briggs
Glacier in South Georgia.
Elevation ( ft/m ): 3625 / 1105
Feature Type: Cape
Description: Dome-shaped cape 225 m high with snow-free
cliffs on the S and E sides, lying 10 mi E of the S end of Detroit
Plateau on the E coast of Graham Land.
Elevation ( ft/m ): 738 / 225
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.