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Shackletons Antarctic Expeditions

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Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was an Irish-born British explorer and an important figure in the history of Antarctic exploration.

Explorer, Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874, in Ireland. He was the second of 10 children and the eldest son. He was raised in London, where his family moved when Shackleton was a young boy.

Shackleton’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and go to medical school, but at 16 Shackleton had other ideas and joined the merchant navy.

The Nimrod Expedition

Ernest Shackleton was 33 when he led his first expedition to Antarctica, determined to be the first to reach the Geographic South Pole. Another aim for the expedition was to continue the scientific and geological survey work begun during Scott’s Discovery Expedition.

The expedition ship known as the Nimrod departed England in August 1907, sailing via New Zealand before anchoring at Cape Royds in early 1908. A prefabricated hut was constructed as a base for further exploration and scientific work. You will see Shackleton’s Cape Royds Hut during the LEARNZ virtual field trip.

The Nimrod Expedition achieved the following: 

  • Scientific work particularly measurements of the weather and study of sea life through cracks in the ice.
  • Mapping and surveying work.
  • Discovered nearly 500km of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains alongside the Ross Ice Shelf.
  • Recorded evidence of glacial recession.
  • Discovered the Beardmore Glacier and the route to the Central Polar Plateau.
  • Completed meteorological observations, and observations of air currents at Ross Island.
  • A party of six were the first to climb Mount Erebus, a 4023m nearby volcano and many rock samples were taken from the summit crater.
  • Shackleton’s party of four came within 97 miles of the South Pole.

South Pole attempt

In late 1908, Shackleton led a party of four in an attempt to be the first to reach the Geographic South Pole. After a journey of two-and-a-half months, and 97 nautical miles from the Pole, Shackleton famously made the decision to turn for home rather than risk almost certainly running out of food and fuel on the return leg.

Journey to the Magnetic Pole

A northern party also left Cape Royds to complete a journey in Victoria Land to carry out magnetic and geological work. The party was to try to reach the South Magnetic Pole. The party had orders to plant the Union Jack at the Magnetic Pole and to take possession of Victoria Land for the British Empire. 

The Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-1917

Ernest was disappointed when a Norwegian explorer made it to the South Pole first in 1911. He made a new goal of passing through the South Pole via Antarctica.

He set out on the ship, Endurance, in August 1914. In January, the ship became ice-locked. Shackleton and his men abandoned the ship, which later sunk, and lived on the ice for several months. When the ice began thawing in the spring, Shackleton and his team boarded small boats and went to Elephant Island.

No one was at the island, so Shackleton and five men took a life boat to South Georgia. There, they organized a rescue party to pick up the rest of the team who were waiting on Elephant Island.

Shackleton and his men were on the ice for almost two years, but no one died. You can find out more about this epic adventure of survival here.

Shackleton died of a heart attack on his third trip to Antarctica.

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Find out more about Shackleton's Endurance Expedition and the lessons that were learnt.

Ernest Shackleton led three expeditions to Antarctica. Image: Public Domain Frank Hurley.

The Southern Party on board the Nimrod. From left to right; Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams. Image: Public Domain, James Murray.

During the Nimrod Expedition this hut was built as a base for further exploration and scientific work at Cape Royds. Image: LEARNZ.

The Endurance ship stuck in sea ice during the second expedition that Shackelton's led to Antarctica. What happened during this expedition? Image: Public Domain, Frank Hurley.

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Scotts Polar Expeditions
Next»
The Trans Antarctic Expedition