Frank Arthur Worsley
Captain of the
Hydrography, sailing master
Ernest Shackleton 1921 - 1922
The Endurance Expedition
Worsley was pleasingly possessed of some eccentricities -
claiming that his cabin was too stuffy, for instance, and sleeping
every night on the passageway floor.
the 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 the Bolsheviks.
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 reported.
Shackleton - "South!"
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 1919.
In 1925 he became joint leader of an Arctic expedition
to Franz Josef Land and in 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
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 Thames.
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.
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 himself.
- 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
- "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
- 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 confidence increasing.
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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
Landmarks named after Frank Arthur Worsley
Feature Name: 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 Name: Cape
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.
How, Walter E.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.