Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), British explorer of Antarctica. Shackleton led three expeditions to the Antarctic, on one of them coming within 179 km (111 mi) of reaching the South Pole—the closest anyone had come at that time. Shackleton is most remembered for leading the fabled Endurance expedition, in which his men survived for ten months on ice floes and on a barren uninhabited island after their ship was crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea.
Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was born in County Kildare, Ireland, the eldest son and second of ten children of a Quaker doctor and his wife. The Shackleton family motto was the Latin phrase Fortitudine Vincimus (by endurance we conquer). Shackleton attended Dulwich College in London, England, for three years before going to sea at age 16. He spent the next 11 years in the merchant marine.
|II||FIRST ANTARCTIC EXPEDITIONS|
In 1901 Shackleton joined the British National Antarctic Expedition led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott, sailing on the ship Discovery. The goal of the expedition was to reach the South Pole from a base on Ross Island in the Ross Sea. Despite inadequate rations and little knowledge of sled dog driving, Scott, Shackleton, and British zoologist Edward Wilson reached latitude 82°17’ south on December 30, 1902, the farthest south anyone had reached at that time. Their trek home was a race against starvation, with Shackleton also suffering from scurvy. Upon their return to base, Scott sent the ailing Shackleton home on a relief ship.
Shackleton made another attempt to reach the South Pole between 1907 and 1909 as the leader of the British Antarctic Expedition. After sailing on the Nimrod to a base on Ross Island, Shackleton and three companions pioneered a route up through the Transantarctic Mountains to the polar plateau by way of the Beardmore Glacier. By January 9, 1909, they had trekked to latitude 88°23' south, within 179 km (111 mi) of the South Pole, but dwindling food supplies forced them to turn back. Shackleton later told his wife, Emily, “I thought you'd rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.” Shackleton was knighted in 1909 by British monarch Edward VII for setting the record for the farthest southern latitude reached.
|III||THE VOYAGE OF THE ENDURANCE|
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in late 1911, followed five weeks later by Scott (who died with his entire team on the return journey). Shackleton then turned his attention to crossing Antarctica. His British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set sail from England on the Endurance in August 1914 with the goal of crossing Antarctica from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. However, in January 1915, before reaching Antarctica, the Endurance became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea. The ship remained stuck in the drifting ice for ten months before it was crushed and sank. Shackleton and his crew of 27 men abandoned the ship a month before it sank. They lived on the floating ice for almost six months before their ice floe, drifting north, broke apart. The group then embarked for the South Shetland Islands in three small boats taken from the Endurance, sailing seven days from ice floe to ice floe before reaching uninhabited Elephant Island.
Leaving all but five of his crew on Elephant Island, Shackleton set off to seek help in one of the boats, the 7-m (23-ft) James Caird. His target was a whaling station on the island of South Georgia, 1,300 km (800 mi) across the open South Atlantic Ocean. After 16 exhausting and extremely perilous days at sea, the six men reached South Georgia, accomplishing one of the greatest feats of navigation in history. They had landed on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station, however. Shackleton and two of his men then hiked for 36 hours straight, completing the first crossing of South Georgia's mountainous interior, to reach help at the whaling station. After three unsuccessful attempts over the next four months, Shackleton rescued his men stranded at Elephant Island on August 30, 1916, in a tugboat lent to him by the government of Chile. In the end, not a single member of the Endurance expedition was lost.
In 1921 Shackleton led another expedition to Antarctica, but he died of a heart attack aboard his ship at Grytviken, South Georgia. His body was buried in the whalers' cemetery at Grytviken.
Despite never reaching the South Pole, Shackleton has a reputation as one of history's ablest leaders. A tireless worker with a charming, forceful personality, he inspired fierce loyalty and admiration from his men, who called him “The Boss.” Shackleton wrote two accounts of his expeditions, The Heart of the Antarctic (1909) and South (1919). He is commemorated in the names of no fewer than ten geographical features in and around Antarctica, including a coast, a mountain range, a glacier, an ice shelf, and a submarine canyon.