Built originally in Dundee as a sealer and
working with the Newfoundland fleet until purchased for the Antarctic
Barquentine / 1 funnel, 3
masts / L,B,D 136' x 26.9' x 16' - 41.5m x 8.2m x 4.9m / 334 tons /
Hull: wooden / compliment - 14 / Engine compound steam 60nhp / 1 screw / 6
knots top speed / Built: Alexander Stephens and Sons Ltd, Dundee, Scotland
The Nimrod anchored in pack ice
(using ice anchors)
Nimrod sailing in the tropics en route for Antarctica
after the expedition
On return to
Britain in 1909, the Nimrod was initially used as a floating museum
of the voyage before being sold by Shackleton in 1910.
Shackleton's Forgotten Expedition
by Beau Riffenburgh (book)
Shackleton originally wanted to purchase a Norwegian
sealer called the Bjørn for his Antarctic expedition, but that
ship cost £11,000 and he could only be sure of £8,000 for the whole
expedition, maybe only £7,000 at the time he bought the ship.
at £5,000 was very much a second choice.
wanted to rename the ship Endurance from his family motto "Fortitudine
Vincimus" - By Endurance we conquer. But in the event, this title was
to be bestowed on the ship he would use on his next Antarctic voyage.
Nimrod was already forty one years old and only just over 300 tons
with a maximum speed of a mere 6 knots. She was sailed to England and
arrived in the Thames in mid summer appearing even worse than her
statistics would imply. She was battered, grim, soiled from her sealing
voyages and had weak and decrepit engines. The name Nimrod was
allowed to remain.
After a refit which amongst
other things involved changing the sailing rig from schooner to
barquentine, the Nimrod was ready to sail.
pressures continued to dog Shackleton with the added complication that his
brother Frank was in severe financial difficulties and could become
bankrupt - the last thing that Ernest needed as he was trying to remain
respectable and should he himself not remain creditworthy, the whole
expedition might fail. To make matters worse Frank was implicated in the
theft of the insignia of the Order of St. Patrick from Dublin Castle - an
event known as "The theft of the Irish Crown Jewels". Shackleton
was hoping for the patronage of King Edward, if assured this might give
him a respectability that would assure the expedition. Such patronage was
On the 30th of July, the Nimrod
left her berth at the East India Docks to begin her voyage to Antarctica.
In the Thames estuary she was overtaken by a Royal Navy torpedo boat with
a message commanding her to attend the annual sailing regatta at Royal
Cowes on the Isle of Wight to be inspected by the King.
was a shrewd political move by the king to ultimately prevent any embarrassing
disclosures coming out from the Irish Crown Jewels affair and also as he
saw that his reign might benefit from Shackleton's success if he could
pull it off.
It came about therefore, that the
Nimrod, a grubby old little sealer was boarded by the king and his
entourage in full Edwardian finery and was given the berth of honour at
Royal Cowes next to HMS Dreadnought the most powerful ship (and the first
modern battleship) in the most powerful navy in the world. Shackleton was
also honoured by being given a flag by the queen to take with him.
Nimrod then left for Torquay from where she finally sailed south on
the 7th of August. She called in at Lyttleton New Zealand en route for
final stores from where she left considerably laden down with her plimsoll
line almost two feet under water and with only 3 feet 6 inches of
freeboard (height above the waterline). She was weighed down with amongst
other stores and requirements, a motor car in a crate, twenty live sheep
and ten ponies.
Such was the cargo on Nimrod that
she couldn't carry enough coal to take her to Antarctica and back.
Although she was a sail and steam ship she needed to use her engines.
Shackleton had realised that he would need a tow, so after an appeal to
the New Zealand Government, a tramp steamer of about 1,200 tons, the Koonya
was supplied with the government meeting half the cost. The ship's owners,
the Union Steamship Company of New Zealand waived the remainder of the
The Nimrod was one of the smallest
ships to go to Antarctica for over sixty years.
journey south was stormy and miserable. Water flooded on board and dripped
and permeated throughout the ship. The ship regularly rolled up to 50°
each way. Although all on board were well used to the sea and storms, to
be in such a small ship in such high latitudes was a new and novel
On the 15th of January, pack was
sighted and the Koonya had to return home. By the time the Nimrod
reached the "pack" it turned out to be a labyrinth of icebergs
in two belts a hundred miles across. There was plenty of open water, but
the passage through had to be picked out carefully.
intended to land at a place known as "Barrier Inlet" as mapped
on Scott's Discovery expedition some six years before. After days of
searching, sailing up and down the ice barrier it became apparent that a
large part of the ice shelf had broken out to sea so changing the
topography of previous geographical features. (The coast of
Antarctica is a map-makers nightmare, by the time any map has been
published, the coast will no longer be as it was due to ice breaking out
and changing the shape of the coast).
considered landing the Nimrod at a place that was spontaneously called the
"Bay of Whales" for the numerous spouting whales in the area. He
and the captain of the ship agonized as to whether they should land there
or not. In the event, worries over impending pack ice meant that the ship
was turned around and headed for McMurdo Sound where she eventually
She anchored to the sea ice edge
some 16 miles from land at Hut Point where there was a hut remaining from
Scott's Discovery expedition in 1902. Preparations
were made for unloading, but this was delayed to allow the ice to break up
further back to Hut Point. By February 3rd the ice had indeed broken back to Hut
Point and so the Nimrod was fastened alongside the ice foot and unloading
Ice and wind conditions
hampered the unloading and the Nimrod periodically put back out into the
bay in bad conditions to prevent the danger of being iced in or damaged by
pack, and as often as not due to the nervousness of Rupert England the
The shore party
and crew of the ship came at odds over their views of England. The crew
were generally in his favour for not risking the ship, while the shore
party disliked him for what they saw as his exaggerated and excessive
caution had jeopardized their safety. At one point Shackleton tried to
take over the command of the ship from England (they were both equally
inexperienced in these circumstances), but England refused to relinquish
and nothing could be done until the ship put into port again, so England
continued as captain.
eventually left McMurdo sound for New Zealand on February the 22nd.
about Sir Ernest Shackleton and this expedition
Historical photographs on this page by
permission of National Library of Australia