Shackleton and five other
crew members decided to organise a rescue for the crew by sailing one of the lifeboats, the 23-foot whaler James Caird,
on what seemed an impossible journey from Elephant Island, 500 miles south of Cape Horn
to South Georgia Island, where there was a whaling station.
The boat was named after
Sir James Key Caird, a wealthy Dundee jute manufacturer and philanthropist, who had given
£24,000 to the expedition - a massive sum in those days.
Eight years ago, the James Caird Society was formed as a registered charity to honour the lifeboat and the six men who survived the epic 17-day, 800mile journey through some of the most treacherous waters in the world.
The James Caird was brought back to England in
1919, and in 1922 was presented to Dulwich School, which Shackleton had attended, by John Quiller Rowett, a school friend of the explorer, and who sponsored his last expedition aboard the Quest.
And when the James Caird finally reached South Georgia Island, the odds were still against them. Unfortunately, because of prevailing winds, they landed at Cape Rosa, an uninhabited part of the island. As a result, they had to cross 26 miles of virtually impassable mountains and glaciers to reach the whaling station on the other side of the island.
Starved, suffering from frostbite and their clothes in tatters, Shackleton and two others made the nightmare journey, covering 22 miles in 36 hours, and in August 1916, some 21 months after setting out for the Antarctic, they finally met civilisation when they reached Stromness Station. Again showing his leadership qualities, Shackleton insisted on returning to
Elephant Island to be on hand for the rescue of his colleagues.
But once again, it was not a smooth path. Dense pack ice blocked the first three rescue attempts. Then, with the help of the Chilean authorities, Shackleton made a fourth
attempt in the trawler Yelcho, and this time they penetrated the pack ice to rescue the 22
crew on Elephant Island. Miraculously, despite the
hardship and privation, not a single member of the 28 member crew was lost during this 22-month period that had tested men to the utmost.
Sir Raymond Priestley, who accompanied Shackleton on his Antarctic expeditions between 1907 and 1913, later
commented: 'For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton.'
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