Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton books and biography

Ernest Shackleton

Portrait of Ernest Henry Shackleton
Portrait of Ernest Henry Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO, OBE (February 15, 1874 – January 5, 1922) was an Anglo-Irish explorer, now chiefly remembered for his Antarctic expedition of 1914–1916 in the ship Endurance.


Antarctic Expeditions

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Shackleton's diaries

1901 - 1902 Discovery Expedition

Main article: Discovery Expedition

Shackleton participated in the National Antarctic Expedition, which was organized by the Royal Geographical Society in 1901, and led by Robert Falcon Scott. This expedition is also called the "Discovery Expedition", as its ship was called Discovery. He may have placed what has become one of the world's most famous advertisements in the Times of London in December 1901: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." (Historians do not all agree on when or in which newspaper the ad was placed, and some have disputed that this ad was ever placed - no one has yet been able to locate the original newspaper clipping; see [1] for a full discussion.)

Shackleton with Scott and Dr Edward Wilson trekked south towards the South Pole in 1902. The journey proceeded under difficult conditions, partially the result of their own inexperience with the Antarctic environment, poor choices and preparation and the pervading assumption that all obstacles could be overcome with personal fortitude. They used dogs, but failed to understand how to handle them. As with most of the early British expeditions, food was in short supply; the personnel on long treks were usually underfed by any measure and were essentially starving. Scott, Wilson and Shackleton made their "furthest south" of 8217'S on December 31, 1902. They were 463 nautical miles (857 km) from the Pole. Shackleton developed scurvy on the return trip and Dr. Wilson suffered from snow blindness at intervals.

When Morning relieved the expedition in early 1903, Scott had Shackleton returned to England, though he had nearly fully recovered. There have been recent suggestions that Scott disliked Shackleton's popularity in the expedition and used his health as an excuse to remove him, however both Shackleton and Scott continued to be on friendly terms in their subsequent correspondence and meetings; he was Merchant Marine and Scott was Royal Navy—which was also part of the contention with whether Albert Armitage was to remain for the second winter. In part, Scott exhibited unusual stamina and may not have recognized differing abilities of others.

1907 - 1909 Nimrod Expedition

Main article: Nimrod Expedition
Shackleton, by Nadar.
Shackleton, by Nadar.

Shackleton organized and led the "British Antarctic Expedition" (1907–1909) to Antarctica. The primary and stated goal was to reach the South Pole. The expedition is also called the Nimrod Expedition after its ship, and the "Farthest South" expedition. Shackleton's base camp was built on Ross Island at Cape Royds, approximately 20 miles (40 km) north of the Scott's Hut of the 1901–1904 expedition; the hut built at this camp in 1908 is on the list of the World Monuments Watch's 100 most endangered sites [2]. Because of poor success with dogs during Scott's 1901–1904 expedition, Shackleton used Manchurian ponies for transport, which did not prove successful.

Accomplishments of the expedition included the first ascent of Mount Erebus, the active volcano of Ross Island; the location of the Magnetic South Pole by Douglas Mawson, Edgeworth David and MacKay (January 16, 1909); and locating the Beardmore Glacier passage. Shackleton, with Wild, Marshall, and Adams, reached 8823'S: a point only 97 nautical miles (180 km) from the South Pole. While the expedition did not make it to the pole, nonetheless, Shackleton, Adams, Marshall, and Wild were the first humans to not only cross the Trans-Antarctic mountain range, but also the first humans to set foot on the South Polar Plateau. Shackleton returned to the United Kingdom a hero and was immediately knighted. For three years he was able to bask in the glory of being "the man who reached furthest to the south." Of his failure to reach the South Pole, Shackleton remarked: "Better a live donkey than a dead lion." It should, however, be pointed out that Shackleton and his group were exceedingly fortunate to return from the Pole. They had cut rations severely, such that there was no margin of safety. They had very good weather throughout their return, in contrast to Scott's experience three years later.

1914 - 1916 Endurance Expedition

Main article: Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

Shackleton's most famous expedition set out from London on August 1, 1914, to reach the Wedell Sea on January 10, 1915, where the pack ice closed in on the Endurance. The ship was broken by the ice on October 27, 1915. The 28 crew members managed to flee to Elephant Island, bringing three small boats with them. All of them survived after Shackleton and five other men managed to reach the southern coast of South Georgia in one of the small boats, from where Shackleton organized a rescue operation to bring home the remaining men.

1917 Ross Sea Party

Main article: Ross Sea Party

After his legendary ordeal in the Weddell Sea sector, Ernest Shackleton arrived in New Zealand during December 1916. He was advised that his supply team the Ross Sea Party was stranded in Antarctica. By that time the Aurora had been repaired and after discussion with the Aurora's captain, Shackleton immediately sailed to Ross Island to bring his men home. On January 10, 1917, the ship pulled alongside the pack ice near Cape Royds and worked its way to Cape Evans. One week later, Shackleton and the Ross Sea Party survivors were headed back to Wellington, New Zealand.

1921 - 1922 Shackleton-Rowett Expedition

Main article: Shackleton-Rowett Expedition
"The Autumn Sunset". In: "The Heart of the Antarctic", Volume I, by E. H. Shackleton, 1909

In 1921, Shackleton set out on another Antarctic expedition. Its purpose was to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent by sea, but it was derailed when Shackleton died of a heart attack on board his ship, the Quest, while anchored off South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands on January 5, 1922. His body was being returned to England when his widow requested that the burial take place on Grytviken, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands instead. Shackleton was buried there on March 5, 1922.


In 1994, the James Caird Society was set up to preserve the memory of Shackleton's achievements. Its first Life President was Shackleton's younger son, Edward Shackleton, and his granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, has been Life President since 1995.

Sir Ernest Shackleton is the subject of Shackleton, a two-part Channel 4 drama directed by Charles Sturridge and starring Kenneth Branagh as the explorer. The same story is related in greater detail in the book Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing.

Shackleton's grave, near the former whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia is frequently visited by tourists from passing cruise ships. The British Antarctic Survey's logistics vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton (the replacement for RRS Bransfield) is named in his honour.

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Shackleton's diaries

There is a Shackleton Memorial Library at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The boat that he sailed to South Georgia is in the entry foyer at Dulwich College, South London. Ironically, he was far from an exemplary student at the school and was relentlessly discouraged from pursuing his ambitions as an explorer, only being held up as an example to students after his death.

Shackleton Crater lies at the south pole of the Moon.

Popular Culture References

  • The following line can be found in The Weakerthans song "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)", which appeared in their CD Reconstruction Site (2003): "I must say that in the right light you look like Shackleton."
  • The following line can be found in Beastie Boys song "Oh Word?", which appeared in their CD To The 5 Boroughs (2004): "Like Ernest Shackleton said to Ord Lees, 'I'll have dog pemmican with my tea.'"


  • Works by Shackleton
    • The Heart of the Antarctic: The Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907 -1909 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Collins) ISBN 1-903464-28-5
    • Shackleton: The Polar Journeys: Incorporating the "Heart of the Antarctic" and "South" by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Collins, 2002) ISBN 1-903464-26-9
    • South: Journals of His Last Expedition to Antarctica by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Robson Books, 1999) ISBN 1-86105-279-0
    • South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Ebury Press, 1991) ISBN 0-7126-3927-6
    • Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Ernest Henry, Sir Shackleton, Christopher Ralling (Peter Bedrick Books, 1986) ISBN 0-87226-082-8
    • Aurora Australis by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Paradigm Press, 1986) ISBN 0-948285-07-9
    • South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17 by Sir Ernest Shackleton (Heinemann, 1970) ISBN 0-434-69500-9
  • Biographies and histories
    • Polar Castaways: The Ross Sea Party Of Sir Ernest Shackleton, 1914-17 by Richard McElrea (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2004) ISBN 0-7735-2825-3
    • Shackleton by Roland Huntford. 2nd edition 1996, Abacus History, London. 774pp ISBN 0-349-10744-0
    • Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition: The Voyage of the Nimrod by Beau Riffenburgh (Bloomsbury USA, 2004) ISBN 1-58234-488-4
    • South with Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 by Frank Hurley (Simon & Schuster, 2001) ISBN 0-7432-2292-X
    • Shackleton's Forgotten Men: The Untold Tale of an Antarctic Tragedy by Lennard Bickel, Rt. Hon. Lord Shackleton (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000) ISBN 1-56025-256-1
    • Leading at the Edge: Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Saga of Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition by Dennis N. T. Perkins, Margaret P. Holtman, Paul R. Kessler, Catherine McCarthy (American Management Association, 2000) ISBN 0-8144-0543-6
    • The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander (Knopf, 1998) ISBN 0-375-40403-1
    • Shackleton's Boat Journey by Frank Worsley (the captain of the Endurance)
    • Endurance by Alfred Lansing (McGraw Hill, 1969) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-59666
    • Shackleton's Voyage by Donald Barr Chidsey (Award Books/Tandem Books, 1967)
    • The Long White Road; Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic adventures by Marvin Hubert Albert (D. McKay Co, 1957) ASIN B0006AV0J4
  • DVDs
    • Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time Kenneth Branagh (A&E Home Video, 2002) ISBN B000063TON
    • The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition Liam Neeson (Columbia Tristar, 2000) ISBN B0000A7W16

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