Background: Shackleton, Struggles, and Previous Antarctic Sailors

Setting the Scene

Imagine, you had previously reached within 100 miles of the last polar prize: the South Pole. After you had gotten back from that journey in 1909, you had been met with cheering crowds in London and even got to meet the King and were made Commander of the Victorian Order. But then you remember the terrible news that someone else had made it to the South Pole in 1911 and planted the Norwegian flag?!1 Ok, well, a bit devastating but maybe you can be the first to cross the Antarctic continent! Brilliant, let’s start coming up with a plan…

Flyer for a lecture about the Antarctic. Many people and explorers were fascinated by the unknown and conquering such unknown.2


The above paragraph is what Sir Ernest Shackleton faced in the years leading up to his infamous journey on the Endurance. Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer, going on three different British expeditions to the South Pole.

The first was on a ship called the Discovery, lead by Robert Falcon Scott. It was officially called the British National Antarctic Expedition and was a custom-built research vessel financed by the British government as well as some scientific societies and private donors. This expedition established its base on the coast of the Ross Sea. Their trips inland involved floundering in the Antarctic environment and one death occurred. After spending a winter there, a small team, including Shackleton, took a sledging journey to see how far South they could go. This ended poorly, too. The team was hungry most of the time and they all developed scurvy. The expedition had to remain for another winter before the ice broke up enough for the ship to sail back to Britain. Although the voyage had made significant leaps in human knowledge about Antartica, many people were still disappointed. This included Shackleton.

So Shackleton announced a new expedition in the February of 1907. He at first planned on using Scott’s routes but Shackleton received criticism and tried to find seek a new base for operations. But because of ice he was forced to use the same base, McMurdo Sound, as Scott. He also raised the funds for the expedition by himself, without government help. In the previous journey, Scott had used dogs. Shackleton, hoping to find a better alternative, used ponies. This worked out even worse than the dogs. The 59 men aboard the Nimrod reached Antarctica in the February of 1908. Only eight ponies survived the voyage and four more died after landing. Only 91 days worth of supplies could be carried for the journey now. Shackleton started off to the South Pole with Frank Wild, Jameson Boyd Adams and Eric Marshall. Eventually they did pass the southernmost point that Scott had gotten to. As their food supplies were getting low and their ponies died, they only tried to get 100 miles away before returning. They reached 88°23´S and made their way back, which was an equally bad, if not worse, experience than journeying to the pole. When Shackleton and his crew got back to London, the news spread quickly and they were praised heavily. Many parties were thrown and Shackleton was made Commander of the Victorian Order.3

“if we’d gone on one more hour [towards the Pole], we shouldn’t have got back.”

Jameson Boyd Adams, 1909, writing about journeying to the pole with Shackleton4

This all set the scene for Shackleton to make his way back to, and hopefully cross, the Antarctic continent.

Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and Dr Edward Adrian Wilson about to head off on the Discovery Expedition. This was the start of Antarctic exploring for Shackleton. 1902.5
Photo of Shackleton from aboard the Nimrod. 1909.6

Previous Antarctic Travel

A brief history on previous trips to and around the White Continent.7

Construction of the Endurance

The Endurance was built in Sandefjord, Norway by the Framnaes shipyard and was completed in 1913. It was made of oak, fir, and greenheart wood. The ship had a coal-fired steam engine, three masts, and was 144 feet over-all.8

Financial Struggles

Shackleton already had previous experience with funding Antarctic expeditions, as he had raised all of the money for the Nimrod, but that was only £30,000.9 The Endurance journey was going to be bigger, and better, and with that came bigger and better (worse) financial struggles. This time though, he did get some help from the British government.

  • £14,000: Grant from Sir James Caird
  • £10,000: Gift from David Lloyd George
  • £10,000: Government Grant
  • £1,000: From the Royal Geographical Society
  • Multiple smaller private donations

Shackleton’s expected expenditure: £60,000

Actual expenditure: £100,00010

“…we have already spent large sums from public funds for Antarctic Expeditions.”

Sir Thomas Heath (British Joint Permanent Secretary of the Treasury), December 1st, 191311

Besides Heath, other notable protestors included Winston Churchill.

“Enough life and money has been spent on this sterile quest. The pole has already been discovered. What is the use of another expedition?”

Winston Churchill, January 23rd, 191412

Previous Antarctic expenditures for the British government included £45,000 for Robert Falcon Scott’s aforementioned National Antarctic Expedition, as well as £20,000 to Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition and Scott’s expedition to try again to reach the South Pole on the Terra Nova.13

“…it is important to note that the British Government was no more enthusiastic in supporting a first crossing of the Antarctic than it had been of the race to the South Pole.”14

To make matters worse, there was also a war brewing!

Can Shackleton live up to his own expectations? Can he prove that the government’s money was spent wisely? Will he make his country proud, perhaps giving them a morale boost for the war? Let all these questions float in the back of your mind as you continue reading.

For now, it’s time to set sail! Let’s meet our cast…

Crew Members15
  1. Sir Ernest Shackleton (Leader)
  2. Frank Wild (Second-in-Command)
  3. Frank Worsley (Captain)
  4. Lionel Greenstreet (First Officer)
  5. Hubert T. Hudson (Navigator)
  6. Thomas Crean (Second Officer)
  7. Alfred Cheetham (Third Officer)
  8. Louis Rickinson (First Engineer)
  9. A. J. Kerr (Second Engineer)
  10. Dr. Alexander H. Macklin (Surgeon)
  11. Dr. James A. McIlroy (Surgeon)
  12. James M. Wordie (Geologist)
  13. Leonard D. A. Hussey (Meteorologist)
  14. Reginald W. James (Physicist)
  15. Robert S. Clark (Biologist)
  16. James Francis Hurley (Photographer)
  17. George E. Marston (Artist)
  18. Thomas H. Orde-Lees (Motor Expert)
  19. Harry McNeish (Carpenter)
  20. Charles J. Green (Cook)
  21. Walter How (Seaman)
  22. William Bakewell (Seaman)
  23. Timothy McCarthy (Seaman)
  24. Thomas McLeod (Seaman)
  25. John Vincent (Seaman)
  26. Ernest Holness (Fireman)
  27. William Stevenson (Fireman)
  28. Perce Blackboro (Stowaway)

  1. Stephanie Barczewski. “The Race to the South Pole.” Age of Exploration. 2018.
  2. Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand. “Material Relating to the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Voyage.” 1912-1920.
  3. Barczewski, “The Race to the South Pole.”
  4. Barczewski, “The Race to the South Pole.”
  5. Unidentified Photographer. “E Shackleton, Captain Scott and Dr E A Wilson, on the British National Antarctic Expedition.” Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand. 1902.
  6. Unidentified Photographer. “Ernest Henry Shackleton.” 1909.
  7. Barczewski, “The Race to the South Pole.”
  8. Lansing, Alfred. Endurance (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959), 18-20.
  9. Barczewski, “The Race to the South Pole.”
  10. Dudeney, J. R. et al. “The British Government, Ernest Shackleton, and the Rescue of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.” The Polar Record 52, no. 4 (07, 2016): 380-392.
  11. Dudeney et al., “The British Government,” 380-392.
  12. Dudeney et al., “The British Government,” 380-392.
  13. Dudeney et al., “The British Government,” 380-392.
  14. Dudeney et al., “The British Government,” 380-392.
  15. Lansing, Alfred. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. New York, United States: Carroll & Graf, 1998.