I recently read a book about Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
I previously knew about the incredible journey told in the book from high school when we were studying the ‘Golden Age of Antarctic Exploration’ at the dawn of the 20th Century. However, this was never fully in-depth – we mainly focused on the Australian hero Sir Douglas Mawson and his trek through unchartered areas.
What particularly caught my interest in Shackleton’s story was: how did he do it? How at the turn of the century without GPS or advanced technology and equipment did he manage to return all 28 members of his crew safely from the end of the world back home to England?
They were only surviving on seal meat, living on an ice floe, and journeying across the roughest seas in a dinghy boat to find an island the size of a football stadium in order to reach any form of civilisation.
I mean – it only takes a weekend at a camp that has a slight drizzle for my youth to call it quits, grumble, complain, and trot off to their perfectly pitched tents, warm jumpers, hot food and plenty of books and card games for entertainment.
Shackleton’s main plan was to be the first team to cross the Antarctic Continent – to start on one side, cross the South Pole and continue to the other side. He gathered a top crew to join the expedition, collected the appropriate funds to purchase the ship named ‘Endurance’ and supply all the necessary equipment and food for the journey.
They set sail to make it to Argentina so they could begin the journey by the start of the summer months. Large icebergs hindered progress through the Antarctic circle, and after a few weeks, the Endurance became wedged between two giant floes – it was going nowhere fast. After a couple of months, the ship was crushed and the crew had to spend the next few months camping on the floe.
The Change of Plan
With the ship became crushed, Shackleton turned his sights to a different task: getting home. No longer did he aim to cross the continent, he wanted to get all 28 men home safely.
By moving around the floe, they hoped the swell would eventually push them close to open sea where they could make a dash across to South Georgia, a tiny speck in the vast South Pacific Ocean. Once they made it to open water, they rowed for five days straight across stormy, rough seas with waves as high as apartments.
The weather turned for the worst and they were swept off course to Elephant Island. Once there, they set up camp and rested, and Shackleton made the decision to take a small team across to South Georgia so they could send a rescue team back for the others.
Journey to South Georgia
The small dinghy they took to South Georgia was the best of the lifeboats they had sailed in from the floe. They covered it with a tarp and started the risky journey to South Georgia. For those who stayed behind, the indefinite wait began. They did not know how long they would spend waiting for a rescue team, or if Shackleton and the small team would even survive.
After three days of sailing, they made it to the village of Stromness, the small settlement on South Georgia for whalers and fishermen. After a long-deserved shave, wash, fresh clothes and feed, they started immediately organising the rescue team for those on Elephant Island. Within three weeks, all members were brought safely to Stromness, and within a couple of months they had arrived back home in England.
That was just a small summary of this incredible journey. The book I read ‘Endurance’ by Alfred Lansing, told the tale in more detail, and made me think about how we take simple pleasures like a jumper, hot food and heaters for granted.
We also don’t have the grit or determination they had – these days a guy attempts to kayak across Bass Strait, the wind picks up and he calls it a day. Shackleton couldn’t, when the going got tough, he sang songs, ate some seals, rowed like a billy-o and emerged an enduring national hero.
A Bible verse which Shackleton held close during those tough times was this:
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.
(Romans chapter 5, verses 3-4)
Here’s hoping we can have the same endurance and perseverance as we go through the trouble of life with God as our fearless leader.
Christopher Archibald lives in Sydney and is a Youth Leader at New Life Christian Church in Blacktown. A voracious reader, he ploughs through many books in a calendar year, with a bookcase that is constantly being rearranged to accommodate new additions.
Christopher Archibald's previous articles may be viewed at
Christopher Archibald lives in Sydney and is a Youth Leader at New Life Christian Church in Blacktown. A voracious reader, he ploughs through many books in a calendar year, with a bookcase that is constantly being rearranged to accommodate new additions.Christopher Archibald's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/christopher-archibald.html