SHACKLETON'S BRITISH ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION 1907-09 (lots 102-107)
A veteran of Scott's Discovery expedition of 1901-04, Shackleton returned to Antarctica for the second time as leader of his own expedition on the Nimrod, determined to reach the South Pole. The party established their base at Cape Royds near Mt. Erebus on the Ross Sea, and in early March 1908, six men led by Jameson Adams made the first ascent of Mt. Erebus. They wintered at Cape Royds and Wild and Joyce oversaw the production of Aurora Australis, the first book completely written, published and printed in Antarctica. In late September 1908 Edgeworth David, Mawson and Mackay left on an expedition to claim the South Magnetic Pole for the British Empire. They reached the Pole on 16 January 1909 and returned from the journey of over twelve hundred miles in early February.
In October 1908, Shackleton set off from Cape Royds with Wild, Marshall and Adams for the South Pole. Their sledges were hauled by Manchurian ponies and they took food for ninety-one days to be supplemented by meat from the ponies slaughtered en route. They managed to travel at twice the speed of Scott in 1902 and passed Scott's furthest south mark on 26 November. In early December they left the coastline and headed south up a vast glacier which took them through the Transantarctic mountains high up to the polar plateau. Manhauling after their last pony Socks fell into a deep crevasse on 7 December they battled on through headwinds and blizzards on to the plateau to the furthest point south then reached by explorers, at latitude 88° 23'S, longitude 162°E, just under one hundred miles short of the Pole. Food was by now desperately short but they made the return more quickly, aided by the wind, and arrived at Hut Point, against all the odds and weeks overdue, on 28 February. Shackleton's sledge-meter recorded their distance travelled, including relaying and back marches, at 1,755 miles and 209 yards.
Shackleton returned to London in June 1909 and became a national hero overnight. He was knighted by King Edward VII, granted funds to assist with the costs of the expedition and embarked on a hectic round of dinners and lectures celebrating his now famous achievement. Nevertheless he had failed to reach the Pole, which would be left to Amundsen's extraordinarily skilled Norwegian Antarctic Expedition of 1910-12 and to Scott's fatal expedition of 1910-13. Shackleton had however, and quite remarkably, survived, living to fight another day and to lead his legendary Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-17.
'No doubt, if Shackleton had been prepared to kill himself and his companions, he could have reached the Pole, and with luck, achieved posthumous glory. The real, largely unsung courage of Shackleton was that he had turned back. He was prepared to live with the might-have-been. "Only 97 miles off," as he expressed it to Elspeth Beardmore, "You can realise my feelings."
To Emily, in her own words,
The only comment he made to me about not reaching the Pole, was "a live donkey is better than a dead lion, isn't it?" and I said "Yes darling, as far as I am concerned", and we left it at that'. (R. Huntford, Shackleton, London 1985, p. 300).