Shackleton, Ernest Henry, sir, 1874-1922

Alternative names
Birth 1874-02-15
Death 1922-01-05

Biographical notes:

Epithet: Major

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001512.0x0000a1

The Endurance was a barquentine in which Sir Ernest Shackleton sailed for the Antarctic during the ill-fated 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (also known as the "Endurance Expedition"); she was crushed under heavy ice and sank November 21, 1915 in the Weddell Sea. Completed in Norway on December 17, 1912 and christened Polaris, she was built of oak and Norwegian fir planks, sheathed in greenheart. As well as sails, she also had a 350 hp coal-fired steam engine capable of 10.2 knots, useful for pushing through heavy ice and capable of manuervering through loose pack ice. Upon her launch, she may have been the strongest ship ever built.

Ernest Shackleton, leader of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and part of two other Antarctic expeditions, acquired Polaris after her owner's financial trouble. Renamed Endurance after the Shackleton family motto Fortitudine vincimus (By Endurance we Conquer), she sailed intending to accomplish the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. She departed for her final voyage on December 15, 1914 but progress was slow, averaging about 30 miles per day through pack ice. A month later, within 200 miles of their destination of Vahsel Bay, a gale developed with sightings of heavy pack ice. She took shelter for the next two days under a large grounded berg and made more progress on January 18 until encountering another ice pack, full of thick but soft ice floes, and was beset by the ice. By January 24, the Endurance was forced to float, waiting for the ice to open up, until crushed on October 27, 1915, and sinking a month later.

The crew attempted to call for help, but their location was too remote for the wireless. Although the ship had been capable of withstanding massive stresses caused by the heavy ice, on October 24, the starboard hull caught against a large ice floe and the hull bent and splintered until water poured in. Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship three days later. Shackleton's mission changed from a transcontinental journey to one of survival. Traveling by foot was nearly impossible, and Shackleton decided to await the break-up of the ice, attempting two marches which were abandoned because of difficulties. On April 8, 1916, the ice floe the crew had been living on split suddenly, and the crew and Shackleton readied the lifeboats for departure towards land. Moving slowly through ice packs, the lifeboats made it to Elephant Island in April. However, Elephant Island was uninhabited and rarely visited by other ships so Shackleton with five other men readied the lifeboat James Caird for the 800 mile journey to South Georgia for help. On May 10, the party reached South Georgia. On August 30, 1916, Shackelton's rescue mission reached the twenty-two members of his crew left behind; all survived after being at sea for nearly two years.

From the guide to the Letter from Ernest Shackleton to J. Cates, Esq. (MS 378), 6th August, 1914, (University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries. Special Collections Dept.)


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Ark ID:


  • Explorers--Correspondence
  • Endurance (Ship)
  • Imperial Trans--Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917)
  • Scientific expeditions


  • Explorers


  • Alaska (as recorded)
  • Antarctica (as recorded)
  • Great Britain (as recorded)
  • Antarctica (as recorded)
  • South Pole (as recorded)