‘Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.’
This advertisement (supposedly placed by Sir Ernest Shackleton to find participants for his Nimrod Antarctic expedition in 1907) is world-famous but, according to a number of historians, and a recent Expedition News newsletter, it never actually ran. And Robert B Stephenson, coordinator of The Antarctic Circle, is so sure it’s apocryphal he’s offering $100 to anyone who can provide a copy of the original advert (www.antarctic-circle.org/advert.htm).
Always sad to see a poetic tale bashed to the ground by plain old facts, Geographical asked Eugene Rae, the archivist at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), if he thought there was any chance of someone scooping the prize. But, it seems not. He forwarded us an email from the historian Robert Burton, co-author of Shackleton at South Georgia.
‘All the signs are that it is apocryphal’, writes Burton, before explaining how Shackleton would have no need to advertise because his plans were being splashed all over the front pages.
‘Unfortunately, it seems that the advertisement is as spurious as it is famous: it has never appeared in any newspaper anywhere,’ agrees John Maxtone-Graham, author of Safe Return Doubtful. And, ‘Shackleton regarded optimism as the first essential for the character of a polar explorer, so “safe return” would be out of character,’ adds Burton, knocking yet another nail into the Shackleton ad’s coffin.