|Annotation of text copyright ©2008 David Trumbull for Agathon Associates. All Rights Reserved.|
December 14, 1911, Amundsen reaches the South Pole
beating Scott by 35 days and surpassing Shackleton's 1909
attempt which fell short by 97 miles.
Shackleton turns his mind to the crossing of the continent.
He fails in the attempt but leaves a record of unflinching determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice.
After the conquest of the South Pole by Amundsen, who, by a
narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British
Expedition under Scott /1/, there remained but one great main object
of Antarctic journeyings—the crossing of the South Polar continent
from sea to sea.
When I returned from the Nimrod Expedition /2/ on which we had to turn back from our attempt to plant the British flag on the South Pole, being beaten by stress of circumstances within ninety-seven miles of our goal, my mind turned to the crossing of the continent, for I was morally certain that either Amundsen or Scott would reach the Pole on our own route or a parallel one. After hearing of the Norwegian success I began to make preparations to start a last great journey—so that the first crossing of the last continent should be achieved by a British Expedition.
We failed in this object, but the story of our attempt is the subject for the following pages, and I think that though failure in the actual accomplishment must be recorded, there are chapters in this book of high adventure, strenuous days, lonely nights, unique experiences, and, above all, records of unflinching determination, supreme loyalty, and generous self-sacrifice on the part of my men which, even in these days that have witnessed the sacrifices of nations and regardlessness of self on the part of individuals, still will be of interest to readers who now turn gladly from the red horror of war and the strain of the last five years /3/ to read, perhaps with more understanding minds, the tale of the White Warfare of the South. The struggles, the disappointments, and the endurance of this small party of Britishers, hidden away for nearly two years in the fastnesses of the Polar ice, striving to carry out the ordained task and ignorant of the crises through which the world was passing, make a story which is unique in the history of Antarctic exploration.
His plan calls for two parties, one approaching from South America via the Welledd Sea;
the other from Australia via the Ross Sea.
He will take the Endurance into the Weddell Sea and land 14 men in November in latitude 78 degrees south. Six men lead by Shackleton will set out on the Trans-continental journey of 1800-mile journey at once, in the hope of accomplishing the march across the Pole and reaching the Ross Sea base in five months. Of the other eight, three will go westward, three eastward, and two remain at the base.
The other ship, the Aurora will land six men at the Ross Sea base, the opposite side of the continent. They will lay down depots on the route of the Trans-continental party, and make a march south to assist that party.
Owing to the loss of the Endurance and the disaster to the Aurora,
certain documents relating mainly to the organization and preparation
of the Expedition have been lost; but, anyhow, I had no intention of
presenting a detailed account of the scheme of preparation, storing,
and other necessary but, to the general reader, unimportant affairs,
as since the beginning of this century, every book on Antarctic
exploration has dealt fully with this matter. I therefore briefly
place before you the inception and organization of the Expedition,
and insert here the copy of the programme which I prepared in order
to arouse the interest of the general public in the Expedition.
Preparaions for the expedition were made through the second half of 1913 and first half of 1914.
Upon announcement of the project he receives 5,000 applications from men seeking to serve; he selects 56.
He has financial backing from the government, the Royal Geographic Society, several individuals. The Public Schools of England and Scotland helps the Expedition to purchase the dog teams.
I started the preparations in the middle of 1913, but no public
announcement was made until January 13, 1914. For the last six
months of 1913 I was engaged in the necessary preliminaries, solid
mule work, showing nothing particular to interest the public, but
essential for an Expedition that had to have a ship on each side
of the Continent, with a land journey of eighteen hundred miles to
be made, the first nine hundred miles to be across an absolutely
unknown land mass.
The first result of this was a flood of applications from all classes of the community to join the adventure. I received nearly five thousand applications, and out of these were picked fifty-six men.
In March, to my great disappointment and anxiety, the promised financial help did not materialize, and I was now faced with the fact that I had contracted for a ship and stores, and had engaged the staff, and I was not in possession of funds to meet these liabilities. I immediately set about appealing for help, and met with generous response from all sides. I cannot here give the names of all who supported my application, but whilst taking this opportunity of thanking every one for their support, which came from parts as far apart as the interior of China, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, I must particularly refer to the munificent donation of £24,000 from the late Sir James Caird, and to one of £10,000 from the British Government. I must also thank Mr. Dudley Docker, who enabled me to complete the purchase of the Endurance, and Miss Elizabeth Dawson Lambton, who since 1901 has always been a firm friend to Antarctic exploration, and who again, on this occasion, assisted largely. The Royal Geographical Society made a grant of £1000; and last, but by no means least, I take this opportunity of tendering my grateful thanks to Dame Janet Stancomb Wills, whose generosity enabled me to equip the Endurance efficiently, especially as regards boats (which boats were the means of our ultimate safety), and who not only, at the inception of the Expedition, gave financial help, but also continued it through the dark days when we were overdue, and funds were required to meet the need of the dependents of the Expedition.
The only return and privilege an explorer has in the way of acknowledgment for the help accorded him is to record on the discovered lands the names of those to whom the Expedition owes its being.
Owing to the exigencies of the war the publication of this book has been long delayed, and the detailed maps must come with the scientific monographs. I have the honour to place on the new land the names of the above and other generous donors to the Expedition. The two hundred miles of new coast-line I have called Caird Coast. Also, as a more personal note, I named the three ship’s boats, in which we ultimately escaped from the grip of the ice, after the three principal donors to the Expedition—the James Caird, the Stancomb Wills and the Dudley Docker. The two last-named are still on the desolate sandy spit of Elephant Island, where under their shelter twenty-two of my comrades eked out a bare existence for four and a half months.
The James Caird is now in Liverpool, having been brought home from South Georgia after her adventurous voyage across the sub-Antarctic ocean.
Most of the Public Schools of England and Scotland helped the Expedition to purchase the dog teams, and I named a dog after each school that helped. But apart from these particular donations I again thank the many people who assisted us.
So the equipment and organization went on. I purchased the Aurora from Sir Douglas Mawson, and arranged for Mackintosh to go to Australia and take charge of her, there sending sledges, equipment and most of the stores from this side, but depending somewhat on the sympathy and help of Australia and New Zealand for coal and certain other necessities, knowing that previously these two countries had always generously supported the exploration of what one might call their hinterland.
All is ready for departure just as war is breaking out and Shackleton offers the
ship and crew to the national defense.
A laconic wire from the Admiralty tells him to "Proceed" and is followed by Winston Churchill's confirmation that the authorities wish Shackleton to continue with the Polar expedition.
Saturday, August 8, 1914, Endurance departed Plymouth.
Upon their return two-and-a-half years later, the men of the expedition will serve in the balance of the Great War.
Shackleton thanks Uruguay and Chile for their assistance to this British effort.
Towards the end of July all was ready, when suddenly the war clouds
darkened over Europe.
It had been arranged for the Endurance to proceed to Cowes, to be inspected by His Majesty on the Monday of Cowes week. But on Friday I received a message to say that the King would not be able to go to Cowes. My readers will remember how suddenly came the menace of war. Naturally, both my comrades and I were greatly exercised as to the probable outcome of the danger threatening the peace of the world.
We sailed from London on Friday, August 1, 1914, and anchored off Southend all Saturday. On Sunday afternoon I took the ship off Margate, growing hourly more anxious as the ever-increasing rumours spread; and on Monday morning I went ashore and read in the morning paper the order for general mobilization.
I immediately went on board and mustered all hands and told them that I proposed to send a telegram to the Admiralty offering the ships, stores, and, if they agreed, our own services to the country in the event of war breaking out. All hands immediately agreed, and I sent off a telegram in which everything was placed at the disposal of the Admiralty. We only asked that, in the event of the declaration of war, the Expedition might be considered as a single unit, so as to preserve its homogeneity. There were enough trained and experienced men amongst us to man a destroyer. Within an hour I received a laconic wire from the Admiralty saying “Proceed.” Within two hours a longer wire came from Mr. Winston Churchill, in which we were thanked for our offer, and saying that the authorities desired that the Expedition, which had the full sanction and support of the Scientific and Geographical Societies, should go on.
So, according to these definite instructions, the Endurance sailed to Plymouth. On Tuesday the King sent for me and handed me the Union Jack to carry on the Expedition. That night, at midnight, war broke out. On the following Saturday, August 8, the Endurance sailed from Plymouth, obeying the direct order of the Admiralty. I make particular reference to this phase of the Expedition as I am aware that there was a certain amount of criticism of the Expedition having left the country, and regarding this I wish further to add that the preparation of the Expedition had been proceeding for over a year, and large sums of money had been spent. We offered to give the Expedition up without even consulting the donors of this money, and but few thought that the war would last through these five years and involve the whole world. The Expedition was not going on a peaceful cruise to the South Sea Islands, but to a most dangerous, difficult, and strenuous work that has nearly always involved a certain percentage of loss of life. Finally, when the Expedition did return, practically the whole of those members who had come unscathed through the dangers of the Antarctic took their places in the wider field of battle, and the percentage of casualties amongst the members of this Expedition is high /5/.
The voyage out to Buenos Ayres was uneventful, and on October 26 we sailed from that port for South Georgia, the most southerly outpost of the British Empire. Here, for a month, we were engaged in final preparation. The last we heard of the war was when we left Buenos Ayres. Then the Russian Steam-Roller was advancing. According to many the war would be over within six months. And so we left, not without regret that we could not take our place there, but secure in the knowledge that we were taking part in a strenuous campaign for the credit of our country.
Apart from private individuals and societies I here acknowledge most gratefully the assistance rendered by the Dominion Government of New Zealand and the Commonwealth Government of Australia at the start of the Ross Sea section of the Expedition; and to the people of New Zealand and the Dominion Government I tender my most grateful thanks for their continued help, which was invaluable during the dark days before the relief of the Ross Sea Party.
Mr. James Allen (acting Premier), the late Mr. McNab (Minister of Marine), Mr. Leonard Tripp, Mr. Mabin, and Mr. Toogood, and many others have laid me under a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
This is also the opportunity for me to thank the Uruguayan Government for their generous assistance in placing the government trawler, Instituto de Pesca, for the second attempt at the relief of my men on Elephant Island.
Finally, it was the Chilian Government that was directly responsible for the rescue of my comrades. This southern Republic was unwearied in its efforts to make a successful rescue, and the gratitude of our whole party is due to them. I especially mention the sympathetic attitude of Admiral Muñoz Hurtado, head of the Chilian Navy, and Captain Luis Pardo, who commanded the Yelcho on our last and successful venture.
Sir Daniel Gooch came with us as far as South Georgia. I owe him my special thanks for his help with the dogs, and we all regretted losing his cheery presence, when we sailed for the South.
/1/ Roald Engelbregt Gravning Amundsen (July 16, 1872–c. June 18, 1928) was a Norwegian explorer of polar regions. He was the first man to reach South Pole on December 14, 1911 with a team of five men and 16 dogs. He also explored the North Polar region (by some reconnings the first man to reach the North Pole). He disappeared in June 1928 while taking part in a rescue mission in the arctic.
Robert Falcon Scott (1868–1912) was a British Royal Naval officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic. Future Endurance Expedition members Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Tom Crean assisted Scott on his first, the Discovery Expedition of 1901–1904. During his second venture, the Terra Nova Expedition of 1910–1913 Scott led a party of five men which reached the South Pole on January 18, 1912, thirty-five days after Amundsen. On their return journey Scott and his four comrades suffered exhaustion, hunger and extreme weather. One of his men, Captain Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates, carrying an old war wound and crippled by frostbite, became increasingly incapable and on or about 17 March stepped outside the tent with the thereafter famous words, "I am just going outside and I may be some time." This deliberate sacrifice was not enough to save the others. Scott's final log entry of March 20th was: "Every day we have been ready to start for our depot 11 miles away, but outside the door of the tent it remains a scene of whirling drift. I do not think we can hope for any better things now. We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker, of course, and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity but I do not think I can write more. R. Scott. For God's sake look after our people."
/2/ Nimrod Expedition of 1907-1909 was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton. The South Pole was not attained, but the expedition’s southern march reached a farthest south record latitude at 88°23’S, just 97 geographical miles (112 statute miles, 180 km) from the Pole on January 9, 1909.
/3/ We customarily assign the dates 1914-1918 to World War I, taking the November 11, 1918 armistice as the effective end, but the world was still at war until the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. That is why many memorials to The Great War show the dates 1914-1919 and why Shackleton writes of "the red horror of war and the strain of the last five years."
/4/ Although many have tried, none has confirmed that Shackleton recruited men for the expedition with a newspaper advertisement worded thus:
Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.The Antarctic Circle, a non-commercial forum and resource on historical, literary, bibliographical, artistic and cultural aspects of Antarctica and the South Polar regions, offers a hundred dollar reward to anyone who can locate the advertisement in a newspaper of the time. The story of "Men wanted for hazardous journey" advertisement is said to be traceable to the 1948 book by Julian Watkins The 100 Greatest Advertisements.
/5/ At the close of the final chapter Shackleton notes, "Taking the Expedition as a unit, out of fifty-six men three died in the Antarctic, three were killed in action, and five have been wounded, so that our casualties have been fairly high."