Shackleton’s Rise to Fame

Portrait of Shackleton Image ©Dundee Heritage Trust
Portrait of Shackleton
Image ©Dundee Heritage Trust

Shackleton led three major expeditions during what is now known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s first journey south was in 1901, on the Antarctic expedition led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott on the ship Discovery. With Scott and Edward Wilson, Shackleton trekked towards the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions. They got closer to the Pole than anyone previously.

In 1908, Shackleton returned to the Antarctic as the leader of his own expedition, on the ship Nimrod. They made many important scientific and geographical discoveries and set a new record by getting even closer to the South Pole. He was knighted on his return to Britain. The race for the South Pole ended with Amundsen’s conquest in 1911.

Worsley’s Almanac This nautical almanac was used by Captain Frank Worsley in 1916 to navigate the lifeboat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia to rescue the shipwrecked crew of Endurance. South Georgia Museum.2013.1
Worsley’s Almanac
Fragment of Wood from Endurance
Fragment of Wood from Endurance
Fragments of Wood from an Oar of James Caird
Fragments of Wood from an Oar of James Caird
South by Ernest Shackleton (1923 edition)

In 1914 Shackleton made his third, now best-known expedition, with the ship Endurance. He planned to cross the Antarctic continent via the South Pole. Before they could land, the ship was beset in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, crushed and sunk. The crew were able to make their way across ice and sea to Elephant Island in three lifeboats. Shackleton and five of his men then made the most famous small boat journey of all time when they sailed the lifeboat James Caird to South Georgia. Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean then made what was likely the first crossing of South Georgia on foot to reach help at the whaling station at Stromness. All the men of the Endurance were rescued.

In 1921, Shackleton returned to the Antarctic on the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition; an ambitious two-year ‘oceanographical and sub-Antarctic expedition’. More commonly known as the Quest Expedition, it was to be Shackleton’s fourth and final Antarctic expedition.

Two crew members at the top of Mount Duse looking down to the Grytviken whaling station. Endurance can be seen anchored in King Edward Cove
Image ©SPRI
The three-masted Endurance, docked at Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia. Mount Duse can be seen behind shrouded in mist
Image ©SPRI