The story of the men of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship S.Y. Endurance

Ernest Henry Shackleton


( 15/02/1874 - 05/01/1922 )

C.V.O. O.B.E. (Military) Polar Medal ( Three Clasps )

Ernest was born in County Kildare Ireland, and was the eldest of two sons born to Henry and Henrietta Letitia Sophia Shackleton. Shackleton’s family descent from a small village named Shackleton in South Yorkshire. England on his father’s side, and from Ireland on his mother’s side.

Whilst he was fated to live to the age of only 47, he led a most remarkable life.

Shackleton’s life is very well documented. Here is a very brief Chronology of his life:


1874 Born Kilkea House. Athy. Co. Kildare . Ireland
1880 His family moved to 35 Marlborough Rd. Dublin.
1884 His family moved to South Croydon. London.
1887-90 Attended Dulwich College.Noted as being “not a particularly bright scholar”.
1890-94 Joined the mercantile marine as an apprentice and sailed with the White Star Line ship “ Hoghton Tower “
1894 Qualified as Second Mate.
1895 Qualified as First Mate.
1898 Qualified as Master in Singapore.
1898-1901 Served on a number of ships as 4th or 3rd officer.
1901 Joined Scott’s Antarctic expedition as a junior officer on the “Discovery”.
1902 Chosen by Scott along with Wilson, to make the Southern journey. Reached furthest South at 82 15’S.suffered with scurvy on return leg.
1903 Returned home on the “Morning”. Left the navy. Became sub-editor of Royal Scottish Geographical Society.
1904 Married Emily Mary Christ Church. Westminster.
1905 Son Raymond Born.
1906 Stood for Parliament. Unsuccessful. Daughter Cecily born.
1908 Shackleton’s ship “Nimrod” sails from New Zealand for Antarctica.
1909 Reached furthest South, within 97 miles of the Pole.


A heavily retouched photograph of Shackleton taken on the Nimrod in 1909 shortly after his epic sledging journey.


1911 Gave evidence to Titanic Commission. Son Edward born.
1913 Announced intended Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
1914 Endurance sails from Plymouth and reaches Antarctic Circle.
1915 Endurance trapped in ice in Weddell Sea and sinks.
1916 Boat journey to Elephant Island. Shackleton and 5 others make open boat journey to South Georgia and cross the island. Shackleton rescues 22 men from Elephant Island on 4th attempt.
1917 Shackleton on Aurora reaches survivors of the Ross Sea Party.
1918 Becomes Major in Army, and posted to Northern Russia.
1919 Resigned commission
1921 Began to plan Quest Expedition. Sails from Plymouth and reaches Rio. South America.
1922 Reaches South Georgia and died from Coronary Thrombosis on board the Quest on the eve of arrival.

Once the South Pole had been reached by Amundsen, Shackleton, ever the showman and not to be outdone, announced in 1913 his intention to cross the Antarctic continent via the Pole. One of his greatest virtues was that of marketing and P.R. He concentrated a great deal of his time in raising the funds needed to finance what was seen by many as a fool-hardy idea.

The following example of his letter to 200 people asking to donate £50 to the cause gives one an idea of his promotional skills



Shackleton’s original letter asking for the final £10,000 to fund his 1914-16 I.T.A.E.
Photo ©

After the Endurance expedition, almost all of the ship’s crew played a part in WW1. In 1917 Shackleton was sent to South America by the British Government on a propaganda exercise to try and drum up what support he could for the allies from neutral countries. He returned home and was posted as Major, with the North Russian Expeditionary force in charge of supplies. In February 1919 he resigned his post.


This picture taken from a rare lantern slide , shows the S.Y. Endurance in all her glory in early August 1914, still in her wonderful white livery.

Shackleton had been dogged with ill health for a number of years, even before the Endurance expedition. This did not stop him from planning one final trip South. John Quiller Rowett, a friend from his Dulwich College days, was persuaded by Shackleton to finance an expedition. He had originally intended to explore the Beaufort Sea on behalf of the Canadian Government, but this fell through. Instead the “Quest” set sail from England in September 1921, her main mission was to explore the regions around Enderby Land.

The Quest reached South Georgia on 4th January 1922 after much delay due to engine failure. At around 2:45 am on 5th January Shackleton began to suffer from acute chest pains, Dr. Macklin was summoned. Ten minutes later Shackleton lay dead. Cause of death was a massive heart attack.

His body was at first sent on its way back to England. But at the wishes of his wife Emily, the ship turned around and he was laid to rest two months later by the crew of the Quest on South Georgia.

Shackletons grave

Shackleton’s grave , photo taken 1929. © J.F.Mann.

The famous historian of the time R.N. Rudmose Brown, perhaps summed up the man Shackleton in the minimum of words, when he wrote:

Shackleton found in polar exploration an outlet for his restless energy, love of adventure, and zest for life. In the more orderly walks of civilisation his lack of convention, his intolerance of shams, and his impetuous candour made him less easy to satisfy. His success as an explorer lay in the boldness of his conceptions, his resourcefulness, and his good leadership.”

Frank Worsley wrote that in the 22 years of his life that Shackleton devoted to Polar work :

“He had forced his way to within 97 miles of the South Pole and had returned with all his men. He discovered the Beardmore Glacier and added over 200 miles of Antarctic coastline to the map. He had been the means of enabling the Magnetic South Pole to be located."

Shackleton achieved other firsts. He and his men from Endurance,were the first ever to set foot on Elephant Island . He made the fist ever crossing of Drakes Passage in an open boat from Elephant Island to South Georgia. He was the first to trek across the interior of South Georgia. 

Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton, are the men most remembered from the golden age of polar exploration. Amundsen for reaching the South Pole first. Scott for being second , and paying the ultimate price with his life.

Shackleton was perhaps the odd one out. As an explorer he achieved hardly any of his intended goals.

He was a bad businessman and something of a womaniser and was not a particularly good Husband or father to his children. He was a well read man and lover of poetry and quite a good writer of poems himself.

Those who served under Shackleton and knew him, came to admire him for his free spirit and love of adventure. He took many risks and sometimes made bad judgements, yet he always pulled through and put the well being of his men before anything else. His greatness lay in his natural ability to lead and inspire those who were in his care. All he asked in return was their loyalty.During his years in Antarctica he never lost a single man under his protection.

He received many awards and honours during his lifetime, not just from Great Britain, but also from around the world. He is remembered in perpetuity in Canada where Mount Shackleton is named after him. In Antarctica, the Shackleton Ice Shelf, and Shackleton Inlet. In Greenland where there is also a Mount Shackleton, and London where his statue by Charles Jagger stands outside the Royal Geographical Society building in Kensington. He even had an aircraft named after him, the Avro Shackleton.

The Avro Shackleton aircraft

On 2nd March 1922 a memorial service was held for him at St. Paul’s Cathedral. London. Among the many dignitaries in attendance were King George V and Queen Mary.

Shackleton’s story has always been over shadowed by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s epic trek to the South Pole. WW1 was still raging when Shackleton and his men returned home from the Endurance expedition. The British public and press had more important things on their minds at the time. 

It was only after WWII , long after Shackleton’s death that his story gained worldwide acknowledgment. He was without doubt one of the 20th Centuries true heroic figures.

Amundsen wrote of Shackleton: “Sir Ernest Shackleton's name will for evermore be engraved with letters of fire in the history of Antarctic Exploration. Courage and willpower can make miracles. I know of no better example that what that man has accomplished.”

In 2002 a national telephone pole was held in the U.K. to establish who were the 100 Greatest Britain’s of all time. Robert Falcon Scott ranked No.54. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton No.11. !

Sir Winston Churchill, who had doubted the merits of Shackleton’s 1914/16 expedition, was voted No.1.


Awards Received by Shackleton British Awards:

1904 Polar Medal, with clasps.
1907 Member of the Royal Victorian Order.
1909 Honour of Knighthood.
Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Military)
1914/18 British War Medal
Victory Medal with emblem for Mentioned-in-Despatches.

Foreign Decorations:
1909 Polar Star of Sweden.
Danneborg of Denmark.
St.Olaf of Norway.
Legion of Honour (France).
1910 St. Anne of Russia.
Crown of Italy.
1911 Royal Crown of Prussia.
1916 Order of Merit (Chile)

Shackleton received at least 25 other awards in the form of Silver and Gold medals from Cities and Geographical Societies around the world.


A rather dashing looking Sir Ernest, taken from a souvenir programme of his 1909-10 lecture tour of Great Britain and Europe.

Shackleton’s Memorial . London.

An example of Shackleton’s signature, thought to have been made sometime after his return from the 1914/16 Expedition. (Photo © j.f.mann)

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