An enduring birthday to Sir Ernest Shackleton (15 February 1874–5 January 1922), intrepid explorer of the Antarctic and survivor par excellence. When the Endurance, the ship for his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, became trapped by ice, and could not be saved after two months camping on an ice floe, he led his team on a miraculous journey.
For two additional months they stayed on the floe, hoping it would drift closer to land. The floe broke in two eventually, and all manned lifeboats for a 5-day journey to the nearest land, uninhabited Elephant Island.
From there, Shackleton and a small team fortified one lifeboat for an 800-mile journey to South Georgia on the Antarctic continent. They reached South Georgia in 15 days, but stormy seas kept them from reaching its fishing port; they docked and three men undertook a land-crossing to the other side.
Four months after the Endurance first became trapped, Shackleton and his two companions reached the whaling station at Stromness. He first sent for the three team members left behind on the southern shore of South Georgia. He then organized an expedition to save the men left behind on Elephant Island, succeeding at last on the fourth attempt after the three earlier voyages had encountered impassable ice. The Elephant Island survivors were not successfully rescued for three months after the landing on South Georgia, meaning they had lived on seven months after the Endurance first was trapped.
When I was eight or nine years old, I ordered the book Shackleton’s Valiant Voyage (at top) via the old school-supported Scholastic Book Service. My copy cost $0.50; it was a condensed and simplified version of Lansing’s book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. I read it over and over. Shackleton’s story was simply mesmerizing. I remember dissolving in tears at the point where Shackleton’s crew, provisions at an end and little available for forage, were reduced to eating the insulation in their jackets. I still own my copy of that tattered little paperback, forty-five years later.
You can find many more photos from the Shackleton exhibition here.