Shackleton began planning his next journey to Antarctica
almost as soon as he returned from the Nimrod expedition of 1907 - 1909.
He felt certain that others would soon succeed in reaching the South Pole
where he had failed having come so close, and so looked to the next goal.
This he took as being the crossing of the Antarctic continent from coast
to coast via the South Pole, a distance of about 1800 miles, a long way
certainly, but not so much further than a "there and back" journey to the
He planned to set out from the Weddell sea region (to
the south of South America) across a completely unexplored region of Antarctica,
to the pole, and then to the Ross sea / McMurdo sound area (to the south
of New Zealand). Typically for such trips, the attention grabbing exploratory
part of the expedition was but a small part of a whole. Other scientific
and exploratory sledging trips were planned for parties setting out from
the main base as well as another party who were to remain at the base and
carry out a variety of scientific work. Another group of men would be required
to set out from the Ross sea region and lay depots for the trans-Antarctic
party to use on their journey to the coast from the pole, they would be
on a second ship.
The ship used for the journey to the Weddell sea was
a newly constructed and had been intended for tourist cruises in the Arctic
in a Norwegian shipyard. She was the
ship to take the Ross Sea party was the
from Douglas Mawson and used by his 1911 - 1914 Antarctic expedition. The
expedition was inundated with applications from volunteers to join, despite
(or maybe because of) the tragic end of Robert Scott and his team after
reaching the South Pole only two years beforehand.
There is a much publicized, but almost certainly
apocryphal newspaper advertisement supposedly placed by Shackleton (no trace
of a copy has ever been found in any archive).
"MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS
JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT
DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS.
- SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON"
Funding became a problem and so Shackleton found himself
at once recruiting and preparing for the departure of the Endurance while
also desperately struggling for funds that if not forthcoming might result
in the expedition not taking place at all. Eventually however, funding was
obtained and towards the end of July 1914 preparations were almost complete.
The dark clouds of war were beginning to
gather however. The Endurance was anchored off Southend on August
4th when Shackleton read in a daily newspaper the order for general mobilization.
He immediately returned to the ship, gathered all hands, and told them that
he would send a to telegram the Admiralty offering the ships, stores and
services to the country in the event of war breaking out. Within an hour
after sending the telegram, Shackleton received a reply from the Admiralty
with the single word "Proceed". Within two hours, another arrived from
Winston Churchill in which he thanked them for their offer but desired that
the expedition go on. That night, at midnight, war broke out.
On August 8th the Endurance sailed
for the Antarctic via Buenos Aires and the sub Antarctic island of South
Georgia where there was a Norwegian whaling station. It was thought that
the war would be over within six months so when it came time to leave for
the south, they left with no regrets.
On November 5th they arrived
at South Georgia. Shackleton learnt much from the whaling captains about
the conditions between there and the Weddell Sea. The plan had been to spend
only a few days collecting stores, but instead the Endurance remained at
South Georgia for a month to allow the ice further south to disperse. This
month was one where bonds of friendship and mutual respect were formed between
the Endurance crew and the Norwegian whalers. Bonds that were to
prove unexpectedly useful some time later to Shackleton and his men.
The Weddell Sea was known
to be particularly ice bound at the best of times and the Endurance
left with a deck-load of coal in addition to normal stores to help with
the extra load on the engines when it came to pushing through pack ice in
the Weddell Sea to the Antarctic continent beyond. Extra clothing and stores
were taken from South Georgia in the event that the Endurance may
have to winter in the ice if caught in the Weddell Sea as it froze, unable
to reach the continent first. They left South Georgia on the 5th of December
into the pack ice
Historical photographs on this page by permission
of National Library of Australia