The "Snuggery" the upturned lifeboats used
by the men left on Elephant Island on top of small rock walls and proofed
against the weather by tarpaulins and other cloth remnants.
The "Snuggery" composite picture, photograph
of the outside with an artists impression of the arrangement of the sleeping
quarters on the inside.
Mountains near Stromness Bay, South Georgia
Elephant Island - photo NOAA
Elephant Island at sunrise - photo NOAA
The rescue boat arrives at Elephant Island
Chilean steamer Yelcho. The boat that
finally managed to reach Elephant Island and rescue Shackleton's stranded
There was still a major obstacle to overcome.
They had landed 22 miles from the Stromness whaling station as the crow
flies. In order to get there they had to go across the backbone of mountains
that ran the length of South Georgia, a journey that no-one had ever managed,
the map depicted the area as a blank.
McNeish and Vincent were too
weak to attempt the journey so Shackleton left them with MaCarthy to care
for them. On May 15th Shackleton, Crean and Worsley set out to cross
the mountains and reach the whaling station, they crossed glaciers,
icy slopes and snow fields. At a height of about 4500 feet, they looked
back and saw the fog closing up behind them. Night was falling and with
no tent or sleeping bags, they had to descend to a lower altitude. They
slid down a snowy slope in a matter of minutes losing around 900 feet in
the process. They had a hot meal with two of them sheltering the cooker
from the wind. Darkness fell and they carried on walking, soon a full moon
appeared lighting their way. They climbed again and ate another hot meal
to renew their energy.
They were soon able to make
out an island in the distance that they recognized, but realised that they
had taken the wrong direction and had to retrace their steps. At 5 a.m.
they sat down exhausted in the lee of a large rock wrapping their arms around
each other to keep warm. Worsley and Crean fell asleep, but Shackleton realised
that if they all did so, they may never wake again. He woke them five minutes
later and told them they had been asleep for half an hour, once again they
There was now but one ridge
of jagged peaks between them and Stromness, they found a gap and went through.
At 6.30 a.m. Shackleton was standing on a ridge he had climbed to get a
better look at the land below, he thought he heard the sound of a steam
whistle calling the men of the whaling station from their beds. He went
back to Worsley and Crean and told them to watch for 7 o'clock as this
would be when the whalers were called to work. Sure enough, the whistle
sounded right on time, the three men must have never heard a more welcome
snow-slope seems to end in a precipice, but perhaps there is
no precipice. If we don't go down we shall have to make a detour
of at least five miles before we reach level going. What shall
"Try the slope".
The three walked downwards to
2000 feet above sea level. They came across a gradient of steep ice, two
hours later, they had cut steps and roped down another 500 feet, a slide
down a slippery slope placed them at 1500 feet above sea level on a plateau.
They still had some distance to go before they reached the whaling station.
The going was still less than easy and they had some climbing still to do
to negotiate ridges between them and their goal.
At 1:30 p.m. they climbed
the final ridge and saw a small whaling boat entering the bay 2500 feet
below. They hurried forward and spotted a sailing ship lying at a wharf.
Tiny figures could be seen wandering about and then the whaling factory
was sighted. The men paused, shook hands and congratulated each other on
accomplishing their heroic journey.
The only possible way down seemed
to be along a stream flowing to the sea below. They went down through the
icy water, wet to their waist, shivering cold and tired. Then they heard
the unwelcome sound of a waterfall. The stream went over a 30 foot fall
with impassable ice-cliffs on both sides. They were too tired to look for
another way down so they agreed the only way down was through the waterfall
itself. They fastened their rope around a rock and slowly lowered Crean,
the heaviest, into the waterfall. He completely disappeared and came out
the bottom gasping for air. Shackleton went next and Worsley, the most nimble
member of the party, went last. They had dropped the logbook, adze and cooker
before going over the edge and once on solid ground, the items were retrieved,
the only items brought out of the Antarctic.
"..... we had
entered a year and a half before with well-found ship, full
equipment, and high hopes. We had 'suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness
of the whole.' We had seen God in His splendours, heard the
text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man"
The whaling station, was now
just a mile and a half away. They tried to smarten themselves up a little
bit before entering the station, but their beards were long, their hair
was matted, their clothes, tattered and stained as they hadn't been washed
in nearly a year. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of May 20th, they walked
into the outskirts of Stromness whaling station, as they approached the
station, two small boys met them. Shackleton asked them where the manager's
house was and they didn't answer, they just turned and ran from them as
fast as they could. They came to the wharf where the man in charge was asked
if Mr. Sørlle (the manager) was in the house.
Mr. Sørlle came out to
the door and said, "Well?"
"Don't you know me?" I said.
"I know your voice," he replied doubtfully. "You're the mate of the
Daisy." (the Daisy was the last of the American open boat whalers,
it had visited South Georgia in 1913)
"My name is Shackleton," I said.
Immediately he put out his hand and said, "Come in. Come in."
They washed, shaved, ate and slept. Worsley
boarded a whaler went to rescue the three left on the other side of South
Georgia at King Haakon Bay sheltering under the upturned James Caird. During
this rescue a storm blew up that had it come the day previously could have
spelled disaster for the three men crossing to Stromness and consequently
the whole of the crew, those on the wrong side of South Georgia and all
those on Elephant Island.
Shackleton remained at Stromness and prepared
plans for the rescue of the men on Elephant Island. Shackleton, Worsley
and Crean left on the British whale catcher Southern Sky that had
been laid up for the winter bound for Elephant Island on the 23rd of May.
Later, Shackleton was to
write in a letter to a friend, "When we got to the whaling station,
it was the thought of all those comrades that made us so mad
with joy...We didn't so much feel safe as that they would be
Sixty miles from the island the pack ice
forced them to retreat to the Falkland Islands whereupon the Uruguayan Government
loaned Shackleton the trawler Instituto de Pesca but once again the
ice turned them away. They went to Punta Arenas where British and Chilean
residents donated £1500 to Shackleton in order to charter the schooner
Emma. One hundred miles north of Elephant Island the auxiliary engine
broke down and thus a fourth attempt would be necessary. The Chilean
Government now loaned the steamer Yelcho, under the command of Captain
Luis Pardo, to Shackleton.
As the steamer approached Elephant Island,
the men on the island were approaching lunchtime. It was August 30th 1917
when Marston spotted the Yelcho in an opening in the mist.
yelled, "Ship O!" but the men thought he was announcing lunch. A few moments
later the men inside the "hut" heard him running forward, shouting, "Wild,
there's a ship! Hadn't we better light a flare?" As they scrambled for
the door, those bringing up the rear tore down the canvas walls. Wild put
a hole in their last tin of fuel, soaked clothes in it, walked to the end
of the spit and set them afire.
The boat soon approached close enough for
Shackleton, who was standing on the bow, to shout to Wild, "Are you all
well?". Wild replied, "All safe, all well!" and the Boss replied, "Thank
God!" Blackborow, since he couldn't walk, was carried to a high rock
and propped up in his sleeping bag so he could view the scene. Frank Wild
invited Shackleton ashore to see how they had lived on the Island, but he
declined being keen to on their way as soon as possible in the light of
previous failed attempts to reach the men due to ice conditions. Within
an hour they were headed north to the world from which no news had been
heard since October, 1914; they had survived on Elephant Island for 105
In 1921 Shackleton was once more drawn
back to Antarctica in an attempt to map 2000 miles (3200 km) of coastline
and conduct meteorological and geological research. Although he was only
47, he died of a suspected heart attack on board the Quest as she
was at anchor in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. Shackleton was buried
on South Georgia and his death brought to a close the "Heroic Age"
of Antarctic exploration. The grave was marked by a headstone of Scottish
granite in 1928 and is visited regularly by scientists and tourists to this
Timeline and map
Historical photographs on this page by permission
of National Library of Australia