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Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton

The British explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922) is known for his ambitious examination of sections of Antarctica.

In the early 20th century, certain nations, especially Great Britain, Norway, and the United States, participated in attempts to reach the highest latitudes north and south. The motives for these expeditions were scientific attainment and national prestige. Sir Ernest Shackleton was to play an important role in the British expeditions to Antarctica.

Shackleton was born at Kilkee, County Kildare, Ireland, on Feb. 15, 1874. It has been noted that his "descent from north of England Quaker stock on his father's side and his Irish ancestry on his mother's may have accounted for the mingling of caution, perseverance, reckless courage, and strong idealism which were his leading characteristics." He joined the merchant service in 1890 and became a qualified master (1898) and a sublieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve (1901). Desirous of adventure and fame, he applied for a position in Robert F. Scott's Discovery expedition to the Antarctic in 1901. With Scott and one other, he sledged to 82°16'33"S latitude over the Ross Shelf Ice.

Returning home due to illness, in 1903, Shackleton undertook numerous engagements: secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (1904-1905) and employee of an engineering company in Glasgow. But his determined ambition lay in Antarctic conquest, and in 1907 he made his plans public. His principal object was to reach the South Pole; other aims were to explore the Ross Shelf Ice and King Edward VII Land and to reach the south magnetic pole. The expedition was largely financed by guarantees which would be redeemed by proceeds from lectures and publications following the voyage.

The Nimrod, a small whaler, reached the Ross Shelf Ice in January 1908. Shackleton discovered the Beardmore Glacier, attained 88°23'S on the Antarctic Plateau on Jan. 9, 1909, and sent expeditions which reached the south magnetic pole and the summit of Mt. Erebus. On his return to England he became a popular hero, was knighted, and received numerous awards from geographical societies. The British government granted £20,000 toward the cost of the expedition. Shackleton made a lengthy lecturing tour and complied his account of the expedition, The Heart of the Antarctic (1909).

Shackleton now proposed to determine the extent of the Weddell Sea and adjacent lands and to complete a trans-Antarctic expedition. The Endurance and Aurora under government auspices sailed in 1914 for South Georgia. When the Endurance was crushed in the ice, Shackleton led heroic sledge and boat parties first to Elephant Island (reached April 15, 1916) and then to South Georgia (August 30), a total of some thousand miles. He completed the rescue operation in the Ross Sea, where the transpolar party was waiting, and returned home to write his account, South (1919).

Then followed numerous tasks, including a mission to South America on behalf of the British government to explain Allied war aims, and an expedition to northern Russia to organize winter equipment. But after World War I Shackleton returned to polar exploration and led an expedition financed by John Quiller Rowett to explore Enderby Land. Shackleton, however, died suddenly of angina pectoris on Jan. 5, 1922, and was buried on South Georgia Island.

Further Reading

Shackleton's accounts of his explorations are in his The Heart of the Antarctic (2 vols., 1909) and South (1919). Two biographies are Hugh Robert Mill, The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton (1923), and Margery and James Fisher, Shackleton (1957). Books dealing with his polar exploits include Frank Wild, Shackleton's Last Voyage (1923), and Frank Hurley, Shackleton's Argonauts (1948). Useful background information on Shackleton and his expeditions is given in L. P. Kirwan, A History of Polar Exploration (1960). See also Robert F. Scott, Voyage of the "Discovery" (2 vols., 1905), and Frank Arthur Worsley, Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure (1931). □

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Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, 1874–1922, British antarctic explorer, b. Ireland. The first of his voyages to Antarctica was made as a member of the expedition (1901–4) of Robert F. Scott. Shackleton was invalided home in 1903, but the experience gained on the Scott expedition aided him greatly as commander of a south polar expedition (1907–9). In the course of this expedition Mt. Erebus was ascended, the south magnetic pole was located, and the polar plateau was crossed to a point less than 100 mi (160 km) from the South Pole. The scientific results of the expedition were of vast importance. Knighted in 1909, Shackleton published that year an account of his expedition, The Heart of the Antarctic.

As commander of a transantarctic expedition, he set out in 1914, planning to enter the Weddell Sea and cross on foot over the south polar region to the Ross Sea, a distance of c.2,000 mi (3,200 km). When his ship Endurance was crushed in the ice in Oct., 1915, he led his party some 180 mi (290 km) to safety at Elephant Island; from there Shackleton with five companions in a lifeboat made a voyage of c.800 mi (1,290 km) through wild seas, then crossed rugged, glaciated South Georgia Island to reach (May, 1916) a whaling station on its north coast. Shackleton rescued his Elephant Island party and later returned to the Weddell Sea to pick up others left there earlier in the expedition. His South (1919) is an account of the whole expedition. In 1921 Shackleton sailed on the Quest to study Enderby Land but died on ship and was buried on South Georgia Island.

See biography by R. Huntford (1985); C. Alexander, The Endurance (1998); E. J. Larson, An Empire of Ice (2011).

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Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry

Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry (1874–1922). Almost the antithesis of Scott as an explorer, Shackleton was impetuous and restless and his experience was in the merchant marine rather than the Royal Navy when he successfully applied to join Scott's Antarctic expedition of 1901–4. Sledging with Scott himself, he reached 82 degrees south in 1902. After a variety of experiences including unsuccessful parliamentary candidature, Shackleton raised enough support to take his own expedition back to the Antarctic in 1907–8 where he discovered and named the Beardmore Glacier as a route onto the 10,000-foot plateau at the centre of the continent. Shackleton himself reached 88 degrees south, only 97 miles from the Pole. Now a hero, he was later encouraged to lead an official expedition aiming to explore from the Weddell Sea and cross the continent to the Ross Sea. Ordered to go ahead despite the Great War, Shackleton lost his ship Endurance when it was crushed by ice in November 1915. With sledges and small boats, he led his men to Elephant Island by the following April, sailed in an open boat to South Georgia, returned to rescue his men, and then visited the Ross Sea. After some diplomatic service in South America and military service in Russia in 1919, he set out on a third Antarctic expedition in 1921 but died suddenly after reaching South Georgia.

Roy C. Bridges

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"Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 14 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry

Shackleton, Sir Ernest Henry (1874–1922) Irish Antarctic explorer. He led an expedition (1907–09) which got to within 155km (97mi) of the South Pole. On his second expedition (1914–16), his ship was crushed by ice and his men marooned on a small island. Shackleton's successful rescue mission, which he described in South (1919), is one of the epics of polar exploration.

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