THE STORY OF
SHACKLETON'S LAST EXPEDITION
BY SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON C.V.O.
WHO FELL IN THE WHITE WARFARE
OF THE SOUTH AND ON THE
RED FIELDS OF FRANCE
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I. INTO THE WEDDELL SEA
II. NEW LAND
III. WINTER MONTHS
IV. LOSS OF THE ENDURANCE
V. OCEAN CAMP
VI. THE MARCH BETWEEN
VII. PATIENCE CAMP
VIII. ESCAPE FROM THE ICE
IX. THE BOAT JOURNEY
X. ACROSS SOUTH GEORGIA
XI. THE RESCUE
XII. ELEPHANT ISLAND
XIII. THE ROSS SEA PARTY
XIV. WINTERING IN McMURDO SOUND
XV. LAYING THE DEPOTS
XVI. THE AURORA'S DRIFT
XVII. THE LAST RELIEF
XVIII. THE FINAL PHASE
SOUTH ATLANTIC WHALES AND WHALING
THE EXPEDITION HUTS AT McMURDO
After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen, who, by a narrow
margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under
Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings—the
crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea.
When I returned from the Nimrod Expedition
on which we had to turn back from our attempt to plant the British flag
on the South Pole, being beaten by stress of circumstances within
ninety-seven miles of our goal, my mind turned to the crossing of the
continent, for I was morally certain that either Amundsen or Scott would
reach the Pole on our own route or a parallel one. After hearing of the
Norwegian success I began to make preparations to start a last great
journey—so that the first crossing of the last continent should be
achieved by a British Expedition.
We failed in this object, but the story of our
attempt is the subject for the following pages, and I think that though
failure in the actual accomplishment must be recorded, there are
chapters in this book of high adventure, strenuous days, lonely nights,
unique experiences, and, above all, records of unflinching
determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice on the part
of my men which, even in these days that have witnessed the sacrifices
of nations and regardlessness of self on the part of individuals, still
will be of interest to readers who now turn gladly from the red horror
of war and the strain of the last five years to read, perhaps with more
understanding minds, the tale of the White Warfare of the South. The
struggles, the disappointments, and the endurance of this small party of
Britishers, hidden away for nearly two years in the fastnesses of the
Polar ice, striving to carry out the ordained task and ignorant of the
crises through which the world was passing, make a story which is unique
in the history of Antarctic exploration.
Owing to the loss of the Endurance and the
disaster to the Aurora, certain documents relating mainly to the
organization and preparation of the Expedition have been lost; but,
anyhow, I had no intention of presenting a detailed account of the
scheme of preparation, storing, and other necessary but, to the general
reader, unimportant affairs, as since the beginning of this century,
every book on Antarctic exploration has dealt fully with this matter. I
therefore briefly place before you the inception and organization of the
Expedition, and insert here the copy of the programme which I prepared
in order to arouse the interest of the general public in the Expedition.
The Trans-continental Party.
The first crossing of the Antarctic continent,
from sea to sea via the Pole, apart from its historic value, will be a
journey of great scientific importance.
The distance will be roughly 1800 miles, and
the first half of this, from the Weddell Sea to the Pole, will be over
unknown ground. Every step will be an advance in geographical science.
It will be learned whether the great Victoria chain of mountains, which
has been traced from the Ross Sea to the Pole, extends across the
continent and thus links up (except for the ocean break) with the Andes
of South America, and whether the great plateau around the Pole dips
gradually towards the Weddell Sea.
Continuous magnetic observations will be taken
on the journey. The route will lead towards the Magnetic Pole, and the
determination of the dip of the magnetic needle will be of importance in
practical magnetism. The meteorological conditions will be carefully
noted, and this should help to solve many of our weather problems.
The glaciologist and geologist will study ice
formations and the nature of the mountains, and this report will prove
of great scientific interest.
Scientific Work by Other Parties.
While the Trans-continental party is carrying
out, for the British Flag, the greatest Polar journey ever attempted,
the other parties will be engaged in important scientific work.
Two sledging parties will operate from the base
on the Weddell Sea. One will travel westwards towards Graham Land,
making observations, collecting geological specimens, and proving
whether there are mountains in that region linked up with those found on
the other side of the Pole.
Another party will travel eastward toward Enderby Land, carrying out a similar programme, and a third, remaining
at the base, will study the fauna of the land and sea, and the
From the Ross Sea base, on the other side of
the Pole, another party will push southward and will probably await the
arrival of the Trans-continental party at the top of the Beardmore
Glacier, near Mount Buckley, where the first seams of coal were
discovered in the Antarctic. This region is of great importance to the
geologist, who will be enabled to read much of the history of the
Antarctic in the rocks.
Both the ships of the Expedition will be
equipped for dredging, sounding, and every variety of hydrographical
work. The Weddell Sea ship will endeavour to trace the unknown
coast-line of Graham Land, and from both the vessels, with their
scientific staffs, important results may be expected.
The several shore parties and the two ships
will thus carry out geographical and scientific work on a scale and over
an area never before attempted by any one Polar expedition.
This will be the first use of the Weddell Sea
as a base for exploration, and all the parties will open up vast
stretches of unknown land. It is appropriate that this work should be
carried out under the British Flag, since the whole of the area
southward to the Pole is British territory. In July 1908, Letters Patent
were issued under the Great Seal declaring that the Governor of the
Falkland Islands should be the Governor of Graham Land (which forms the
western side of the Weddell Sea), and another section of the same
proclamation defines the area of British territory as ‘situated in the
South Atlantic Ocean to the south of the 50th parallel of south
latitude, and lying between 20 degrees and 80 degrees west longitude.'
Reference to a map will show that this includes the area in which the
present Expedition will work.
How the Continent will be crossed.
The Weddell Sea ship, with all the members of
the Expedition operating from that base, will leave Buenos Ayres in
October 1914, and endeavour to land in November in latitude 78 degrees
Should this be done, the Trans-continental
party will set out on their 1800-mile journey at once, in the hope of
accomplishing the march across the Pole and reaching the Ross Sea base
in five months. Should the landing be made too late in the season, the
party will go into winter quarters, lay out depots during the autumn and
the following spring, and as early as possible in 1915 set out on the
The Trans-continental party will be led by Sir
Ernest Shackleton, and will consist of six men. It will take 100 dogs
with sledges, and two motor-sledges with aerial propellers. The
equipment will embody everything that the experience of the leader and
his expert advisers can suggest. When this party has reached the area of
the Pole, after covering 800 miles of unknown ground, it will strike due
north towards the head of the Beardmore Glacier, and there it is hoped
to meet the outcoming party from the Ross Sea. Both will join up and
make for the Ross Sea base, where the previous Expedition had its winter
In all, fourteen men will be landed by the Endurance
on the Weddell Sea. Six will set out on the Trans-continental journey,
three will go westward, three eastward, and two remain at the base
carrying on the work already outlined.
The Aurora will land six men at the Ross
Sea base. They will lay down depots on the route of the
Trans-continental party, and make a march south to assist that party,
and to make geological and other observations as already described.
Should the Trans-continental party succeed, as
is hoped, in crossing during the first season, its return to
civilization may be expected about April 1915. The other sections in
The Ships of the Expedition.
The two ships for the Expedition have now been
The Endurance, the ship which will take
the Trans-continental party to the Weddell Sea, and will afterwards
explore along an unknown coast-line, is a new vessel, specially
constructed for Polar work under the supervision of a committee of Polar
explorers. She was built by Christensen, the famous Norwegian
constructor of sealing vessels, at Sandefjord. She is barquentine
rigged, and has triple-expansion engines giving her a speed under steam
of nine to ten knots. To enable her to stay longer at sea, she will
carry oil fuel as well as coal. She is of about 350 tons, and built of
selected pine, oak, and greenheart. This fine vessel, equipped, has cost
the Expedition £14,000.
The Aurora, the ship which will take out
the Ross Sea party, has been bought from Dr. Mawson. She is similar in
all respects to the Terra Nova, of Captain Scott's last
Expedition. She had extensive alterations made by the Government
authorities in Australia to fit her for Dr. Mawson's Expedition, and
is now at Hobart, Tasmania, where the Ross Sea party will join her in
I started the preparations in the middle of 1913, but no public
announcement was made until January 13, 1914. For the last six months of
1913 I was engaged in the necessary preliminaries, solid mule work,
showing nothing particular to interest the public, but essential for an
Expedition that had to have a ship on each side of the Continent, with a
land journey of eighteen hundred miles to be made, the first nine
hundred miles to be across an absolutely unknown land mass.
On January 1, 1914, having received a promised
financial support sufficient to warrant the announcement of the
Expedition, I made it public.
The first result of this was a flood of
applications from all classes of the community to join the adventure. I
received nearly five thousand applications, and out of these were picked
In March, to my great disappointment and anxiety,
the promised financial help did not materialize, and I was now faced
with the fact that I had contracted for a ship and stores, and had
engaged the staff, and I was not in possession of funds to meet these
liabilities. I immediately set about appealing for help, and met with
generous response from all sides. I cannot here give the names of all
who supported my application, but whilst taking this opportunity of
thanking every one for their support, which came from parts as far apart
as the interior of China, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, I must
particularly refer to the munificent donation of £24,000 from the late
Sir James Caird, and to one of £10,000 from the British Government. I
must also thank Mr. Dudley Docker, who enabled me to complete the
purchase of the Endurance, and Miss Elizabeth Dawson Lambton, who
since 1901 has always been a firm friend to Antarctic exploration, and
who again, on this occasion, assisted largely. The Royal Geographical
Society made a grant of £1000; and last, but by no means least, I take
this opportunity of tendering my grateful thanks to Dame Janet Stancomb
Wills, whose generosity enabled me to equip the Endurance
efficiently, especially as regards boats (which boats were the means of
our ultimate safety), and who not only, at the inception of the
Expedition, gave financial help, but also continued it through the dark
days when we were overdue, and funds were required to meet the need of
the dependents of the Expedition.
The only return and privilege an explorer has in
the way of acknowledgment for the help accorded him is to record on the
discovered lands the names of those to whom the Expedition owes its
Owing to the exigencies of the war the publication
of this book has been long delayed, and the detailed maps must come with
the scientific monographs. I have the honour to place on the new land
the names of the above and other generous donors to the Expedition. The
two hundred miles of new coast-line I have called Caird Coast. Also, as
a more personal note, I named the three ship's boats, in which we
ultimately escaped from the grip of the ice, after the three principal
donors to the Expedition—the James Caird, the Stancomb Wills
and the Dudley Docker. The two last-named are still on the
desolate sandy spit of Elephant Island, where under their shelter
twenty-two of my comrades eked out a bare existence for four and a half
The James Caird is now in Liverpool, having
been brought home from South Georgia after her adventurous voyage across
the sub-Antarctic ocean.
Most of the Public Schools of England and Scotland
helped the Expedition to purchase the dog teams, and I named a dog after
each school that helped. But apart from these particular donations I
again thank the many people who assisted us.
So the equipment and organization went on. I
purchased the Aurora from Sir Douglas Mawson, and arranged for
Mackintosh to go to Australia and take charge of her, there sending
sledges, equipment and most of the stores from this side, but depending
somewhat on the sympathy and help of Australia and New Zealand for coal
and certain other necessities, knowing that previously these two
countries had always generously supported the exploration of what one
might call their hinterland.
Towards the end of July all was ready, when
suddenly the war clouds darkened over Europe.
It had been arranged for the Endurance to
proceed to Cowes, to be inspected by His Majesty on the Monday of Cowes
week. But on Friday I received a message to say that the King would not
be able to go to Cowes. My readers will remember how suddenly came the
menace of war. Naturally, both my comrades and I were greatly exercised
as to the probable outcome of the danger threatening the peace of the
We sailed from London on Friday, August 1, 1914,
and anchored off Southend all Saturday. On Sunday afternoon I took the
ship off Margate, growing hourly more anxious as the ever-increasing
rumours spread; and on Monday morning I went ashore and read in the
morning paper the order for general mobilization.
I immediately went on board and mustered all hands
and told them that I proposed to send a telegram to the Admiralty
offering the ships, stores, and, if they agreed, our own services to the
country in the event of war breaking out. All hands immediately agreed,
and I sent off a telegram in which everything was placed at the disposal
of the Admiralty. We only asked that, in the event of the declaration of
war, the Expedition might be considered as a single unit, so as to
preserve its homogeneity. There were enough trained and experienced men
amongst us to man a destroyer. Within an hour I received a laconic wire
from the Admiralty saying "Proceed." Within two hours a longer wire
came from Mr. Winston Churchill, in which we were thanked for our offer,
and saying that the authorities desired that the Expedition, which had
the full sanction and support of the Scientific and Geographical
Societies, should go on.
So, according to these definite instructions, the Endurance
sailed to Plymouth. On Tuesday the King sent for me and handed me the
Union Jack to carry on the Expedition. That night, at midnight, war
broke out. On the following Saturday, August 8, the Endurance
sailed from Plymouth, obeying the direct order of the Admiralty. I make
particular reference to this phase of the Expedition as I am aware that
there was a certain amount of criticism of the Expedition having left
the country, and regarding this I wish further to add that the
preparation of the Expedition had been proceeding for over a year, and
large sums of money had been spent. We offered to give the Expedition up
without even consulting the donors of this money, and but few thought
that the war would last through these five years and involve the whole
world. The Expedition was not going on a peaceful cruise to the South
Sea Islands, but to a most dangerous, difficult, and strenuous work that
has nearly always involved a certain percentage of loss of life.
Finally, when the Expedition did return, practically the whole of those
members who had come unscathed through the dangers of the Antarctic took
their places in the wider field of battle, and the percentage of
casualties amongst the members of this Expedition is high.
The voyage out to Buenos Ayres was uneventful, and
on October 26 we sailed from that port for South Georgia, the most
southerly outpost of the British Empire. Here, for a month, we were
engaged in final preparation. The last we heard of the war was when we
left Buenos Ayres. Then the Russian Steam-Roller was advancing.
According to many the war would be over within six months. And so we
left, not without regret that we could not take our place there, but
secure in the knowledge that we were taking part in a strenuous campaign
for the credit of our country.
Apart from private individuals and societies I
here acknowledge most gratefully the assistance rendered by the Dominion
Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth Government of Australia
at the start of the Ross Sea section of the Expedition; and to the
people of New Zealand and the Dominion Government I tender my most
grateful thanks for their continued help, which was invaluable during
the dark days before the relief of the Ross Sea Party.
Mr. James Allen (acting Premier), the late Mr.
McNab (Minister of Marine), Mr. Leonard Tripp, Mr. Mabin, and Mr.
Toogood, and many others have laid me under a debt of gratitude that can
never be repaid.
This is also the opportunity for me to thank the
Uruguayan Government for their generous assistance in placing the
government trawler, Instituto de Pesca, for the second attempt at
the relief of my men on Elephant Island.
Finally, it was the Chilian Government that was
directly responsible for the rescue of my comrades. This southern
Republic was unwearied in its efforts to make a successful rescue, and
the gratitude of our whole party is due to them. I especially mention
the sympathetic attitude of Admiral Muñoz Hurtado, head of the Chilian
Navy, and Captain Luis Pardo, who commanded the Yelcho on our
last and successful venture.
Sir Daniel Gooch came with us as far as South
Georgia. I owe him my special thanks for his help with the dogs, and we
all regretted losing his cheery presence, when we sailed for the South.
I. INTO THE WEDDELL SEA