Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and others

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Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874 in Kilkea, Ireland, one of six children of Anglo-Irish parents. The family moved from their farm to Dublin, where his father, Henry studied medicine. On qualifying in 1884, Henry took up a practice in south London, and between 1887 and 1890, Ernest was educated at Dulwich College. On leaving school, he entered the merchant service, serving in the square-rigged ship Hoghton Tower until 1894 when he transferred to tramp steamers. In 1896, he qualified as first mate, and two years later, was certified as master, joining the Union Castle line in 1899.

In 1901, he became a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, and joined the British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904 (leader Robert Falcon Scott), serving as third officer in Discovery . During the expedition, he was responsible for seawater analysis and was editor of the expedition newspaper South Polar Times . In November 1902, Shackleton accompanied Scott and Edward Wilson on the first major sledging journey, exploring inland across the Ross Ice Shelf toward the South Pole. On 30 December 1902, they reached a record farthest south of 82° 17'. Although weakened by scurvy on the return journey, Shackleton struggled back on foot with the others and to his intense disappointment, was invalided home in March 1903 on the relief ship Morning .

On his return to Britain, Shackleton married Emily Dorman and settled in Edinburgh, becoming secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. After standing unsuccessfully for Parliament as liberal-unionist candidate for Dundee in 1906, he became personal assistant to Mr William Beardmore, head of the Glasgow firm of naval ship builders and armour plate manufacturers. In 1907, he announced his plans for an expedition to the South Pole and, after raising funds set out with the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909.

Departing from London in the expedition ship Nimrod in July 1907, he landed at Ross Island in February 1908. In October 1908, the main polar party, consisting of Shackleton, Eric Marshall, John Robert Francis [Frank] Wild and Jameson Adams, set out from Cape Royds, crossing the Ross Ice Shelf and discovering a way through the mountains by means of the Beardmore Glacier. On inadequate rations, they man-hauled across the polar plateau, reaching 88° 26' South on 9 January 1909 before turning back.

On his return, Shackleton was knighted and was awarded several medals, including the Special Gold Medal from the Royal Geographical Society. After experiencing limited success in various business enterprises, Shackleton began to plan an expedition to cross Antarctica between the Ross and Weddell Seas. One ship, Endurance, would land a sledging party in the Weddell Sea while another Aurora, would land a party at McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea to lay depots in support of the crossing party. Following months of fund-raising, Endurance set out from Plymouth in 1914

. In December 1914, Endurance sailed from South Georgia towards the Weddell Sea, where she became beset in heavy pack ice in January 1915. After the ship was crushed, the crew lived for six months on drifting ice until this broke up northeast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Proceeding in three open boats, the party of twenty-eight men reached Elephant Island on 15 April 1916. To seek help, Shackleton set out with five men in the James Caird on an epic sixteen-day voyage to South Georgia. On arrival there, Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean made the first crossing of the rugged mountain interior, reaching Stromness Bay whaling station on 20 May 1916. After three unsuccessful attempts to rescue the Elephant Island party, Shackleton finally reached the stranded men in the Chilean naval steam tug Yelcho on 30 August 1916.

Returning to Great Britain, Shackleton was sent by the British government on a propaganda mission to South America, and between 1918 and 1919, served with the North Russian expeditionary force, receiving the OBE (military) in 1919. After the war, he became involved in a succession of business enterprises, all of which ended in disappointment, as did a plan for an expedition to Arctic Canada.

With the support of John Quiller Rowett, he decided to head south once more, leading the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition, 1921-1922, to the Southern Ocean. Sailing from London in Quest on 21 September 1921, the expedition arrived in South Georgia on 4 January 1922. Shackleton suffered a heart attack and died the next day at Grytviken, where he was buried in the whalers' graveyard overlooking the bay.

Published work The heart of the Antarctic; being the story of the British Antarctic expedition, 1907-1909 by Ernest Henry Shackleton edited by Carroll & Graf, New York (1999) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1907-1909 Shackleton] South by (Sir) Ernest Henry Shackleton, edited by Peter King, Pimlico London (1999) SPRI Library Shelf (7)91(08)[1914-1917]

From the guide to the Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton collection, 1874-1992, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton collection, 1874-1992 Scott Polar Research Institute
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Aurora (Steam yacht) corporateBody
associatedWith British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 corporateBody
associatedWith British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904 corporateBody
associatedWith British Relief Expeditions Antarctica 1902-1903 and 1903-1904 corporateBody
associatedWith Clark Robert Selbie 1882-1950 person
associatedWith Daily mail (London, England) corporateBody
associatedWith Discovery (Steam yacht) corporateBody
associatedWith Dorman Charles Herbert d 1901 person
associatedWith Endurance (Steam yacht) corporateBody
associatedWith Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition Ross Sea 1914-1917 corporateBody
associatedWith Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition Weddell Sea 1914-1916 corporateBody
associatedWith Mackintosh Æneas Lionel Acton 1879-1916 person
associatedWith Macklin Alexander Hepburne d 1967 person
associatedWith Marston George Edward 1882-1940 person
associatedWith Nimrod (Steam yacht) corporateBody
associatedWith Quest (Ship) corporateBody
associatedWith Rowett John Quiller 1876-1924 person
associatedWith Scott Robert Falcon 1868-1912 person
associatedWith Shackleton Edward Arthur 1911-1994 person
associatedWith Shackleton Ernest Henry 1874-1922 person
associatedWith Shackleton Lady Emily 1868-1936 person
associatedWith Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition South Georgia 1921-1922 corporateBody
associatedWith Skelton Reginald William 1872-1956 person
associatedWith Stancomb-Wills Dame Janet d 1932 person
associatedWith Stenhouse Joseph Russell 1887-1941 person
associatedWith Wild John Robert Francis 1873-1939 person
associatedWith Wilson Edward Adrian 1872-1912 person
associatedWith Worsley Frank Arthur 1872-1943 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Antarctica Discovery and exploration


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SNAC ID: 58682721