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Ernest Shackleton
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Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (February 2, 1874January 5, 1922) was an Irish-born explorer, now chiefly remembered for his expedition of 19141916, in the ship, Endurance.

Shackleton was born in County Kildare, Ireland 1874, and served as a merchant marine officer. He went to school at Dulwich College from 1887 to 1890.

He participated in the National Antarctic Expedition, organized by the Royal Geographical Society in 1901, led by Robert Falcon Scott. This expedition is also called the Discovery Expedition, as its ship was called the RRS Discovery. The expedition was the first to penetrate the Ross Sea and reach the Ross Ice Shelf. He apparently placed what has become one of the world's most famous advertisements in the Times of London in December 1913: "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."

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 foolishly in short supply; the personnel on long treks were usually underfed by any sensible measure and were essentially starving. Scott, Wilson and Shackleton made their "furthest south" of 8217'S on December 31, 1902. They were 480 statute miles from the Pole. Shackleton developed scurvy on the return trip and Dr. Wilson was suffering from snow blindness at intervals.

When the Morning relieved the expedition in early 1903, Scott had Shackleton returned to England, though he had nearly fully recovered. There is some suggestion that Scott disliked Shackleton's popularity in the expedition and used his health as an excuse to remove him; he was Merchant Marine and Scott was Royal Navy—which was also part of the contention with whether Armitage was to remain for the second winter. In part, Scott exhibited unusual stamina and may not have recognized differing abilities of others.

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 north of the Scott's Hut of the 1901–1904 expedition. 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, David and MacKay (January 16, 1909); locating the Beardmore Glacier passage. Shackleton, with Wild and Adams, reached a point only 156 km from the South Pole. For three years Shackleton basked 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."

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition set out in 1914. Its goal was to cross the Antarctic from a location near Vahsel Bay on the south side of the Weddell Sea, reach the South Pole and then continue to Ross Island on the opposite side of the continent. The expedition's goal had to be abandoned when the ship, "Endurance", was beset by sea ice short of its goal of Vahsel Bay. It was later crushed by the pack ice. The ship's crew and the expedition personnel endured an epic journey by sledge across the Weddell Sea pack and then boat to Elephant Island. Upon arrival at Elephant Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, they rebuilt one of their small boats and Shackleton with five others set sail for South Georgia to seek help. This remarkable journey in a 6.7 meter boat (the James Caird) through the Drake Passage to South Georgia in the late Antarctic Fall (April and May) is perhaps without rival. They landed on the southern coast of South Georgia and then crossed the spine of the island in an equally remarkable 36-hour journey. The 22 men who remained on Elephant Island were rescued by the Chilean ship "Yelcho" after three other failed attempts on August 30, 1916 (22 months after departing from South Georgia). Everyone from the "Endurance" survived.

In December 1916, Shackleton embarked on a rescue mission to pick up members of the Ross Sea Party. Although they suffered casualties, this party still managed to lay food depots on the other side of the continent. Their story is recalled in the book Shackleton's Forgotten Men: The Untold Tale of an Antarctic Tragedy by Lennard Bicke. From the Amazon book description:

The drama of Shackleton's Antarctic survival story overshadowed the other expedition. Launched by the famous explorer (and led by Captain Aeneas Mackintosh), its purpose was to lay supply depots across the Great Ross Ice Shelf in preparation for the Endurance expedition. Despite completing the longest sledge journey in polar history (199 days) and enduring near unimaginable deprivation, this heroic band accomplished much of their mission, laying the way for men who never came. All suffered; some died. Now Australian writer Lennard Bickel remembers these forgotten heroes in a gripping account that fills in a little-known and ironic piece of the Shackleton puzzle. Largely drawn from the author's interviews with team member Dick Richards, this retelling underscores the capacity of ordinary men for endurance and noble action.

In 1921, Shackleton set out on another Antarctic expedition, but died at sea on January 5, 1922. and was buried on South Georgia.

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.

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 , 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 RSS Ernest Shackleton (the replacement for RRS Bransfield) is named in his honour.

See also

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