The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917)

 

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Excerpt from The Outlook – Volume 113  – published on 12th July 1916 – about the plight of The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (also know as the Endurance Expedition) (1914-1917).  It took Shackleton four attempts to return to Elephant Island to rescue the party stranded there, they were eventually rescued on 30th August 1916 – after more than three months.  This article was written while the men were still stranded – between the second and third rescue attempts.

Starving on Elephant Island

A few months ago The Outlook told of what it called “The Strange Plight of the Shackleton Expedition.”  The latter part of the story, then unknown, makes it still more strange and deepens one’s recognition of the many kinds of deadly dangers which surround the polar adventurers.

Shackletons first relief ship stuck in the ice on route to Elephant IslandIt will be remembered that the plan of the Shackleton expedition was that Sir Ernest in his ship Endurance should land on the Antarctic continent somewhere on the coast of the Weddell Sea, while his other ship, the Aurora, under Captain McIntosh, should land on the opposite side of the Antarctic continent at Ross Sea.  Both landings were made.  The plan was that the Aurora’s crew should stay where they were until the Shackleton party either made their way across the continent, perhaps actually reaching the South Pole midway (although that was not an essential design), or, should this fail, until the Endurance should skirt the continent and reach Ross Sea. But disaster attacked both parties, and in a most unexpected way.

First, the Aurora was suddenly caught in a pack of ice and borne out to sea, leaving part of her crew on shore.  She could not break away from the ice, was carried hundreds of miles away, and finally, in a seriously damaged condition, reached islands near New Zealand.  At first it was thought that the Aurora’s men on shore would starve unless Sir Ernest reached them, but later it was said that they had some provisions, and it is hoped that a relief ship which has been despatched to their aid will reach them.  

But what of Shackleton and the Endurance?  The attempt to cross the continent was abandoned.  The Endurance put to sea, was battered by great icebergs, crushed by ice-fields, tossed and strained beyond endurance.  The crew was forced to abandon her and to take to the ice, dragging their small boats with them.  They nearly starved; they were nearly frozen.  At last, after unprecedented struggles and sufferings, they reached Elephant Island, three hundred and forty-six miles away from the spot where they abandoned the ship.  When the story of this journey across the ice is told, it must certainly be one of the most thrilling of the many stirring tales of polar adventure.  

To reach Elephant Island was not to reach civilization.  No ship was likely to find its glacial shores.  Food for the twenty-two men of the party had fortunately been saved in considerable quantity, and they could kill penguins to eke out their rations.  But, looking at the future of months and possibly years before them, their case was desperate.  Shackleton believed the only chance was to open communication with inhabited islands.  He therefore set out in a small boat with five volunteers, hoping to reach South Georgia, seven hundred and fifty miles away.  The start was made on April 24 of this year amid blizzards and high seas.   Almost miraculously, the attempt succeeded.  Shackleton reached land on May 15.  Soon after a little whaler (eighty tons only) started south for Elephant Island.  This relief expedition failed utterly.  The whaler was too small to fight the terrible ice and weather conditions.  Then Sir Ernest himself organized a second relief expedition, and this in turn failed, as has quite recently been told in cabled despatches from Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, in which port the relief vessel was forced to take refuge.  That Shackleton did everything in his power no one can doubt who reads the despatches.   He still hopes – almost against hope – that his comrades on Elephant Island may be reached and that their desperate condition may not end in their starvation and physical collapse.

Excerpt from The Outlook – Volume 113  – published 12th July 1916

Picture Caption: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Relief Ship in the Ice-Pack.  The Outlook has already (issue of July 19) told the story of the misfortunes of the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition. Sir Ernest himself has twice headed relief expeditions to save his twenty-two comrades who reached Elephant Island with him after they had been forced to abandon their ship, the Endurance, at sea.  He is now engaged in a third effort to rescue his crew.  The ship above shown in the ice-pack is the small whaler in which the first attempt was made in vain.  The photograph comes from Sir Ernest, who says that the ship was often in even worse position than this.

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Further Reading and External Links

Nimrod Expedition The Endurance Expedition Ernest Shackleton

Discovery Expedition The Terra Nova Expedition Robert Falcon Scott