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Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance
Did You Know?
20 curious facts about Shackleton's voyage of endurance.
  1. In 1914, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton set sail for the Antarctic aboard the ship Endurance, trying to be the first to cross Antarctica from one side to the other.

  2. With the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen having gained the South Pole in 1911, Shackleton felt crossing the continent was the next great Antarctic first to be accomplished.

  3. Endurance departed London the same day Germany declared war on Russia—August 1, 1914.

  4. With the ship anchored at Plymouth, England, Shackleton offered the services of his ship and crew for the war effort, but Winston Churchill, then Secretary of the Admiralty, sent back a one-word telegram: "Proceed."

  5. With a crew of 26 and a stowaway, a 20-year-old Welshman named Perce Blackborow, the ship left Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 26, heading for the Antarctic.

  6. On December 5, with Blackborow now made steward, the ship departed South Georgia Island, on its way to the Antarctic continent. Unbeknownst to them, Shackleton and his 27 men would not touch land again for 497 days.

  7. Endurance became beset in pack ice on January 18, 1915. It was a grip from which she would never gain release.

  8. On November 15, almost a year after they had left South Georgia, Shackleton and his crew watched the ice-crumpled Endurance sink beneath the frozen sea.

  9. After 23 weeks camping on the ice, the crew went to sea in three salvaged lifeboats, trying to reach one of several islands off the Antarctic Peninsula.

  10. Seven days later, on April 16, 1916, after surviving days and nights of freezing cold, stormy seas, and a debilitating lack of food and water, they landed on remote Elephant Island.

  11. A week later, realizing that no ship would ever find them, Shackleton and five others left Elephant Island aboard the 23-foot lifeboat James Caird and sailed for South Georgia, 800 miles away across some of the roughest seas in the world.

  12. After 17 days in stormy seas, and with superior navigation by Endurance captain Frank Worsley, Shackleton and his five-man crew miraculously arrived on the west coast of South Georgia.

  13. Even today polar historians consider the voyage aboard the James Caird one of the greatest small-boat journeys of all time.

  14. On May 20, having trekked without a break for 36 hours over the glacier-clad mountains that run down the center of South Georgia, Shackleton, Worsley, and Second Officer Tom Crean stumbled into the Stromness whaling station.

  15. When the haggard, bearded Shackleton told the station manager who he was, a Norwegian whaler present broke down and wept. It had been a year and a half since the Endurance had sailed from Stromness, heading to Antarctica.

  16. Shackleton quickly rescued the three others on the west coast, then immediately set about trying to save his crew on Elephant Island. After four failed attempts aboard chartered ships, he finally reached the island on August 25, four months after he had left them.

  17. "I felt jolly near blubbing for a bit & could not speak for several minutes," Frank Wild, whom Shackleton had left in charge on Elephant Island, said upon seeing Shackleton come ashore.

  18. Despite losing their ship in one of the most remote parts of the world, all 28 men returned safely to England.

  19. Itching to return to the Antarctic, Shackleton launched a new expedition in 1921 aboard the ship Quest. Though the expedition's goals were ill-defined, many of his old crewmates joined him.

  20. The Quest arrived at South Georgia on January 4, 1922. Late that night, in the wee hours of January 5, Shackleton suddenly had a massive heart attack and died. He was 47 years old.

Note: all sources are NOVA/WGBH.

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