Ernest Holness (1892-1924)
 - Biographical notes

Able seaman Endurance 1914-17 - 22 at the start of the expedition

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 his position was 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 floe 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 lack of clarity as to their roles 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 at the age of 31 when 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.

Buenos Aries 1917

Some of the crew of the Endurance photographed in Buenos Aries 1917
picture courtesy Robin Mackenzie- Stornoway Historical Society

References to Ernest Holness in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

  • "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.


Other Crew of the Endurance Expedition

Bakewell, William - Able Seaman
Blackborow, Percy - Stowaway (later steward)
Cheetham, Alfred - Third Officer
Clark, Robert S. - Biologist
Crean, Thomas - Second Officer
Green, Charles J. - Cook
Greenstreet, Lionel - First Officer
Holness, Ernest - Fireman/stoker
How, Walter E. - Able Seaman
Hudson, Hubert T. - Navigator
Hurley, James Francis (Frank) - Official Photographer
Hussey, Leonard D. A. - Meteorologist
James, Reginald W. - Physicist
Kerr, A. J. - Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H. - Surgeon
Marston, George E. - Official Artist
McCarthy, Timothy - Able Seaman
McIlroy, Dr. James A. - Surgeon
McLeod, Thomas - Able Seaman
McNish, Henry - Carpenter
Orde-Lees, Thomas  - Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Rickinson, Lewis - First Engineer
Shackleton, Ernest H. - Expedition Leader
Stephenson, William - Fireman/stoker
Vincent, John - Able Seaman
Wild, Frank - Second in Command
Wordie, James M. - Geologist
Worsley, Frank - Captain

Biographical information - I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have will be gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.

What are the chances that my ancestor was an unsung part of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration?

  Ernest Shackleton Books and Video

South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage - DVD

Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002) - DVD

Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization - DVD

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage - DVD
Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface) - Book

South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words

 Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley


biography by Roland

The Quest for Frank Wild, biography by Angie Butler

The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel

Elephant Island and Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees Book
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World -
Jennifer Armstrong
for ages 12 and up