SHACKLETON’S AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
Lots 141 - 152
Ever since we were last there we have thought and dreamed of the wild stretches of snow and ice, the silence of those places where men never trod before, the wonder of the unknown as it rolled into our ken.
‘Go I must’ – the call of the Antarctic by Sir Ernest Shackleton, The Daily Mail, 31 December 1913
The most decorated of the Polar explorers, Shackleton’s Antarctic career got off to a shaky start when he was invalided home early from Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition (Discovery) in 1903. He had been a member of the Furthest South Party with Scott and Wilson, reaching 82.17°S. on the Ross Ice Shelf on 30 December 1902, but incipient scurvy on the journey led to him being sent home on the relief ship Morning after just one winter south. Bitterly disappointed, Scott’s decision to invalid him out left him with ‘an aspiration, soon to harden into a determination, that he would yet prove to the Fleet and to the world that he was a fit man, perhaps even the fittest man, for polar exploration.’ (as Hugh Robert Mill wrote in the first biography). He was awarded the Polar Medal and the Royal Geographical Society’s Silver Medal (the latter lot 141) for Discovery in 1904. The aspiration was immediately evident, Sir Clements Markham recording ‘he was full of plans for another expedition’ when Shackleton visited him in early October 1903, and after desk jobs and a foray into politics, he won sponsorship for his own Nimrod expedition. He failed to make the South Pole, turning back some 97 miles short, famously remarking later to his wife that he thought she would prefer a live donkey to a dead lion. Shackleton, Wild, Adams and Marshall had however made spectacular progress, the first to make Antarctic continent, climbing the vast Beardmore Glacier (named for his sponsor) and onto the Polar plateau where they planted the Queen’s flag at 88°23’S. Their southern journey of a little over 1,755 miles was ground breaking, and Shackleton returned the hero. He had been made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order on the outset of the expedition in 1907, and on his return in 1909 was knighted and made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. He embarked on a series of lecture tours at home, on the continent, and in north America, and was showered with foreign decorations by heads of state and societies (lots 142-150). Just days before the outbreak of the Great War, Shackleton sailed on what would be his most extraordinary venture, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16, intending to make a first crossing of the Antarctic Continent. His ship the Endurance was beset and crushed by ice, and sank in the Weddell Sea in early 1916. The expedition then turned into an epic tale of survival. The Chilean Order of Merit, lot 151, an award made in Santiago, recalls the happy ending (all of the men on Endurance survived), after Shackleton had eventually retrieved his marooned crew from Elephant Island, following the help of the Chilean authorities. War service followed in 1918-19, mostly out of Murmansk, Shackleton involved in various Arctic operations (his British War Medal and Victory Medal included in lot 152). Just two years later he sailed south in the Quest on another expedition south, but suffered a heart attack and died at South Georgia in January 1922.
Shackleton’s major place in the history of Antarctic exploration is assured by his memorial on South Georgia, his statue in London (outside the Royal Geographical Society), the new British Antarctic Survey ship Ernest Shackleton, the ‘Shackleton Memorial Library’ and his records at the Scott Polar Research Institute, many Antarctic place-names, the preserved James Caird and active James Caird Society, plaques, and a vast amount of maps, art, artefacts and literature which perpetuate his memory.
Fourteen gold medals awarded to Shackleton, including the RGS gold medal for Nimrod, are no longer in the family's possession.