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Sir Ernest Shackleton

"For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott;…for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen; and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it, give me Shackleton every time."
       Apsley Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott's 1910-12 Antarctic Expedition

Born in County Kildare, Ireland, Ernest Henry Shackleton lived in Dublin as a child before his family moved to England. The son of a physician, Shackleton and his ten siblings led a comfortable middle-class existence.

He attended Dulwich College in London, England, and then joined the British Merchant Navy at age 16. He was 27 years old and a third officer of a prestigious merchant service line when he volunteered for Captain Robert Falcon Scott's 1901 Discovery expedition to be the first to reach the South Pole. While they never reached it, the journey gave Shackleton a taste for adventure and his own ideas on how to lead an expedition. It was the first of four expeditions he would eventually take to reach the Antarctic.

By 1907, Shackleton had raised enough funds to lead his own expedition to the South Pole. One hundred miles from his goal, Shackleton noted his team's terrible condition—snowblindness, hunger, frostbite, and exhaustion—and decided to turn back for survival's sake. A courageous leader who put his men first, Shackleton returned a national hero and was knighted.

As Shackleton was preparing for his next expedition in 1913, news arrived that Scott had died tragically in Antarctica. Believing that both poles were claimed, Shackleton was determined to cross the continent and declare the last prize of polar exploration in the name of Britain. Shackleton purchased a 300-ton wooden barquentine and named her the Endurance after his family motto: Fortitudine Vincimus—"by endurance we conquer." The Endurance set sail on August 8, 1914, and by virtue of Sir Ernest Shackleton's leadership, optimism, and bravery, all of his men survived the 22-month ordeal.

In late 1921, Shackleton and a number of his men from the Endurance expedition sailed again toward the Antarctic, stopping on South Georgia Island. Shackleton died there in his sleep on January 5, 1922. At the request of his wife, he was buried on the island in the whalers' cemetery.

Shackleton died without reaching the ultimate goal of any of his expeditions, nor did he ever achieve the public recognition he deserved. He did, however, leave a lasting mark on the history of polar exploration, and is known today as an unparalleled leader of character, determination, and endurance.

Photo by Frank Hurley, 1914 © Scott Polar Research Institute

Shackleton | Exhibits