Written by Craig Allan
History recognises Sir Ernest Shackleton as possibly the strongest and most inspirational leader of the twentieth century. His name is regarded alongside Captain Scott and Amundsen as one of the greatest heroic pioneers of Antarctic exploration in the early part of the twentieth century.
On one exploration, his ship, “Endurance” became trapped in sea ice, forcing him and his men to abandon ship and to live on the floating ice for over 5 months. Then, using only three small, open lifeboats, they set out on a perilous journey across the treacherous seas and flow ice, eventually reaching the comparative safety that was Elephant Island.
They built makeshift shelters on the island from two of the boats and for warmth and light, used makeshift lamps from the blubber of the elephant seals which gave the island its name. Resources on the island were sparse however, certainly not sufficient for the men to survive long-term and they all knew the outlook was bleak.
Shackleton, realising this, took 5 men and in a single open boat, set out on an 800-mile voyage in search of the island of South Georgia – a journey which would later become recognised as one of the greatest boat voyages in history. Shackleton knew from long experience that there were numerous whaling ships and expeditions in the area and he believed this would be their best chance of survival.
On reaching South Georgia, he and his men were then faced with a “hellish” trek across steep mountains and unforgiving blizzards, but eventually they reached the remote whaling station that was their goal.
Shackleton soon organised a rescue ship and only four and a half months after leaving his men on Elephant Island he returned and, as he had promised he would, rescued every last one of them.
What made this expedition so historically important was the fact that against all the odds and after battling extremes of temperature, weather and terrain, Shackleton kept his team together. Even more remarkable is the fact the he brought every single one of them safely back home. This was “the Shackleton way”.
Ultimately, Shackleton never did achieve his goal of being first to reach the South Pole; this accolade went to the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen.
Of all the Antarctic explorers of that time, it was once said that Scott stood out, for his “scientific methods” and Amundsen for “speed and efficiency”, but “when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton“.
Need I say more?