A feat of endurance – Shackleton’s greatest hour, 100 years on

Today is 100 years to the day since Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship the Endurance left Plymouth, bound for the Antarctic. Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was supposed to take several months. Instead it would be almost three years before he returned to England.

Shackleton had been part of Robert Falcon Scott’s first but unsuccessful attempt to reach the South Pole, and after Roald Amundsen managed to do it, Shackleton set his sights on a new goal: crossing the entire Antarctic continent from sea to sea via the pole. He took two ships. The Endurance would carry the expeditionary party to the Weddell Sea. The Aurora would travel to the Ross Sea on the other side of the continent and her crew would then work inland, laying supply depots for the expeditionary party from the Endurance.

It all went infamously disastrously wrong. The Endurance became trapped in pack ice and drifted for months. Eventually the ice crushed the ship and all 28 men were stranded on the floe. They survived for some time in shelters made from salvaged material from the Endurance, and by supplementing their rations with penguin meat. Shackleton realised, however, that in the long term their prospects looked grim. So he took several men and set out in an uncovered lifeboat, sailing through freezing temperatures and stormy seas to summon help at South Georgia.

The Endurance trapped in pack ice, shortly before she sank.

The Expedition almost hadn’t happened at all. Britain declared war on Germany only a few days before departure and Shackleton offered to put both ships and their crews at the Admiralty’s disposal. The First Lord thereof (a certain Winston Churchill) responded that that wouldn’t be necessary. When Shackleton reached South Georgia, one of the first questions he asked the whalers was when the war ended. Over two and a half years after he left England, he learnt the war hadn’t been over by Christmas after all.

Shackleton later wrote an authoritative account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, detailing not only what went wrong, but also how all of the Endurance’s crew managed to survive – truly living up to their vessel’s name.

In time for the centenary we have republished South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance as part of our new series of Adlard Coles Maritime Classics. Our edition includes new maps and a Foreword by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, in which he uses his own experiences in the Antarctic to reflect upon Shackleton’s courage and leadership.


Adlard Coles Maritime Classics is a new series celebrating the best of maritime writing, both fiction and non-fiction, containing new Forewords by leading figures. Three other books in the series are published this month:
The Sea Wolf (Jack London; Foreword by Bear Grylls)
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Jules Verne; Foreword by Miranda Krestovnikoff)
Mutiny On Board HMS Bounty (William Bligh; Foreword by Pete Goss)

Next year we will be publishing two more:
Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe; Foreword by Ray Mears)
Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad; Foreword by Bruce Parry)

What maritime favourites would you like us to publish next?

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