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ON THIS DAY: 1915, Shackleton abandons Endurance

The Endurance was slowly crushed after nine months trapped in the ice The Endurance was slowly crushed after nine months trapped in the ice Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)
27 Oct
After nine months trapped in the Antarctic ice, including four months of winter darkness, Ernest Shackleton ordered the crew of the Endurance to abandon ship

One hundred years ago today, at 5pm local time, Ernest Shackleton had one last survey of his ship, the Endurance. Noting how it had been getting slowly crushed since getting trapped in the Antarctic ice back in January 1915, with water now flooding the lower decks, he turned to his crew of 27 on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, and gave the order to abandon ship, moving permanently onto the ice.


‘It was a sickening sensation to feel the decks breaking up under one’s feet, the great beams bending and then snapping with a noise like heavy gunfire,’ wrote Shackleton in his memoir, South. ‘Just before leaving, I looked down the engine-room skylight as I stood on the quivering deck, and saw the engines dropping sideways as the stays and bed-plates gave way. I cannot describe the impression of relentless destruction that was forced upon me as I looked down and around. The floes, with the force of millions of tons of moving ice behind them, were simply annihilating the ship.’

With the exception of Frank Hurley’s photographs and Leonard Hussey’s banjo, Shackleton instructed each crew member to dump all but 2lbs of their personal possessions, as they began a new life on the ice, in the newly-constructed Ocean Camp. With the Endurance rapidly flooding with freezing ice, Hurley rescued 120 of his roughly 500 precious glass plates, smashing the rest so he would never be tempted to later risk his life attempting to save them. Shackleton, Hurley and Frank Wild led salvage operations of the ship, to resourcefully obtain as many essential items as they could to prepare them for an attempted journey home which would now have to take place without their ship.

Until 28 February 2016, the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) hosts the exhibition ‘The Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley’, to celebrate the centenary of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–17) led by Sir Ernest Shackleton – better known today as the Endurance expedition.

The Enduring Eye – a new book collecting the newly-digitised images from the expedition – is now on sale via the Syon Publishing store.

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