The crew joined following Shackleton's recruitment notice that read: '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.' The objective was to cross Antarctica from Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound, a distance of 2,000 miles.
Shackleton was already an acknowledged polar explorer, and had been knighted following his Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition of 1907-9. He also had a good eye for publicity and ensured the expedition was fully recorded on film and camera.
The photographer, Frank Hurley, whose photographs are
reproduced in this article by kind permission of the Royal Geographical Society, had a darkroom aboard the
Endurance, and when the ship went down, he had to dive into the watery bottom to retrieve
his glass-plate negatives.
As they were unloading their supplies, disaster struck
when the wooden ship was trapped in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, where she remained and drifted for
10 months until finally being crushed.
At first Shackleton and his
crew lived on the ship, but as she began to sink, they moved about a mile away and sheltered in the three upturned lifeboats. A month after this move, on 21 November 1915, the Endurance, the only way home for the team, sank.
For more safety, they moved to a fresh ice flow that they
named 'Patience Camp'. The
crew lived under those boats for the duration of the six
month Arctic night. Short of food, clothing and shelter, finally they drifted to the northern edge of the pack, the sun came up and the ice began to break up. This enabled them, in April 1916, to sail their three small lifeboats to a bleak crag called Elephant Island, a speck of rock at the north end of the Antarctica Peninsula. It was the first time
they had set foot on land for 497 days.
But as the island was
uninhabited, their chances for survival still looked bleak - and the recruitment advertisement
suddenly became very
prophetic. But Shackleton was no quitter and he soon brought his sterling powers of leadership to bear on the situation. The epic part of their journey was about to begin.
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