For the Crew of the Endurance From Alexandra, May 31, 1914
May the Lord help you to do your duty & guide you through all dangers by land and sea.
“May you see the Works of the Lord & all His wonders in the Deep.”
—INSCRIPTION IN SHIP BIBLE
PRESENTED BY QUEEN ALEXANDRA
Assemble on floe: Boss explains situation and we turn in,” wrote Wordie. They had set up camp on what appeared to be a stable floe only some 100 yards from their shattered ship. As far as could be seen in every direction around them, the ice rose in contorted, colossal fragments. The temperature had fallen to –15°. They were 350 miles from the nearest land.
Each man was issued a sleeping bag and assigned to one of five tents.
“There was only 18 skin bags & we cast lots for them,” wrote McNish. “I was lucky for the first time in my life for I drew one.” By some piece of subterfuge that did not escape the sailors, most of the officers happened to draw the less desirable Jaeger wool bags.
“There was some crooked work in the drawing,” Able Seaman Bakewell recorded, “as Sir Ernest, Mr. Wild… Captain Worsley and some of the other officers all drew wool bags. The fine warm fur bags all went to the men under them.”
Lying on groundsheets that were not waterproof, the men listened to the grind ing and booming of the floes, like distant thunder, travelling through the ice directly under their heads, the sound now unmuffled by their ship's stout wooden walls. Their linen tents were so thin that the moon could be seen through them. Three times in the night, the floe on which they were camped cracked beneath them. Three times they had to pick up tent, sleeping bag, and groundsheet and pitch them all again.
“A terrible night,” wrote James, “with the ship outline dark against the sky & the noise of the pressure against her… seeming like the cries of a living creature.”
Shackleton himself did not return to his tent, but paced the ice, listening to the pressure and staring at the light in his ship. “Like a lamp in a cottage window, it braved the night,” he wrote, “until in the early morning the Endurance received a particularly violent squeeze. There was a sound of rending beams and the light disappeared.”
Dump Camp. The morning after the disaster to the ship
“A terrible night with the ship outline dark against the sky & the noise of the pressure against her…like the cries of a living creature” ( James, diary). The men passed the first three nights on the ice here before attempting to march to land 364 miles away.
In the chill dawn, Shackleton was joined by Hurley and Wild in salvaging tins of petrol from the wreck. Erecting a makeshift galley, they prepared warm milk and took it to the men in their tents, “surprised and a trifle chagrined,” as Shackleton recorded dryly, “at the matter-of-fact manner in which some of the men accepted this contribution to their comfort. They did not quite understand what work we had done for them in the early dawn, and I heard Wild say, ‘If any of you gentlemen would like your boots cleaned just put them outside!' “
After breakfast, Shackleton again summoned the men and informed them that in a few days they would begin a march towards Snow Hill or Robertson Island, some 200 miles to the northwest.
“As always with him what had happened had happened,” Macklin wrote. “It was in the past and he looked to the future.… [W]ithout emotion, melodrama or excitement [he] said ‘ship and stores have gone—so now we'll go home.' “
The planned march required the men to drag with them basic supplies as well as two of the three lifeboats. Every hand had been issued new winter gear and a pound of tobacco. Beyond this, each was limited to two pounds of personal possessions. A few exceptions were made. Shackleton allowed Hussey to take his banjo, on the premise that it would supply the men with “vital mental tonic.”
By way of example, before the assembled men, Shackleton discarded a handful of gold sovereigns and his gold watch on the ice, followed by his silver brushes and dressing cases. He then took the Bible that had been presented to the ship before departure by Queen Alexandra. Ripping out the flyleaf and a few other pages, he lay the Bible on the ice. The pages he retained were those of the Twenty-third Psalm and these verses from Job:
Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters are hid as with a stone
And the face of the deep is frozen.
A pile of discarded dress uniforms, scientific equipment, books, watches, cooking utensils, ropes, tools, flags, sextants, chronometers, diaries, and blankets grew as the men dumped all nonessential personal effects. McNish was busy fitting the boats to sledges, while others sorted rations, stored their gear, and sewed pockets on their clothing for precious possessions like spoons, knives, toilet paper, and toothbrushes.
There were no disturbances over the next two nights, and on October 30 the men awoke to a raw, snowy morning. Everything was ready for the start of the march, and at 1:15 p.m. a “pioneering party” consisting of Shackleton, Hudson, Hurley, and Wordie got under way. Shackleton shouted, “Now we start for Robertson Island, boys!” and everyone cheered. The job of this advance guard was to attempt to break down the hummocks, ice blocks, and pressure ridges over which the boats and dogsledges would travel.
At 2:55 p.m., Crean shot three of his puppies and Mrs. Chippy, who had come to be known as the ship's mascot. It was left to Macklin to put down his dog Sirius, who had never been broken to harness. Sirius, ever friendly, jumped up to lick Macklin's hand, which was shaking so much that he required two shots to finish the job. The sound of the shots ringing out over the ice cast a pall over an already gloomy day.
At 3 p.m., the rest of the procession set out. From the pathfinding party at the head to the fifteen man-hauling the large lifeboat in the rear, the unwieldy column stretched for as much as a mile. Seven dog teams relayed back and forth with smaller loads.
At 6 p.m., the party halted for the night. They had travelled just under a mile.
“A wretched day,” Lees wrote the following morning. “Snowing hard with a very high temperature & everything wet.” Owing to the snow, they did not set out until the afternoon; after they had travelled only half a mile, the weather thickened, and Shackleton called a halt. On the third day, November 1, sinking at times up to their hips in the wet snow, they covered a quarter of a mile before calling it quits.
“The condition of the surface is atrocious,” wrote Hurley. “There appears scarcely a square yard of smooth surface which is covered by a labyrinth of hummocks & ridges.” After a conference with his ad hoc advisory committee, consisting of Wild, Worsley, and Hurley, Shackleton acknowledged that further efforts were futile. He announced that they would pitch a new camp and await the breakup of the ice, which would allow them to take the boats into open water. His hope was that the drift of the pack would carry them northwest to within striking distance of Paulet Island, nearly 400 miles distant. Nordenskjöld's Swedish expedition had built a hut there in 1902, and Shackleton knew it to be stocked with emergency supplies; he himself had helped provision the relief operation for the expedition twelve years earlier. From here, a small overland party would continue west to Graham Land, and make its way to Wilhelmina Bay, where they could expect to meet up with whaling vessels. Meanwhile, the new camp, established on a sturdy floe some twenty feet thick only a mile and a half from the wreck of the Endurance, was christened Ocean Camp.
Hauling the James Caird
“We all followed with the heavier boat on the composite sledge. It was terrific work to keep it going. We all did our best but were practically exhausted by the time we reached the new camp, No. 4, barely 3?miles away” (Lees, diary). Loaded, the boats weighed as much as a ton each.
A distant view of the camp
When the march was abandoned, Ocean Camp was established on a solid floe roughly a mile and a half from the wreck of the Endurance, which was still visible in the distance; the tip of its broken mast and funnel can just be seen over the horizon to the left of the photograph.
Throughout the ensuing days, salvage teams ferried back and forth between “Dump Camp,” the site where the Endurance had been abandoned, and their new quarters. Many objects removed from the ship during the disaster had sunk into the snow and become embedded in the ice. Nonetheless, much was retrieved, including part of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The entire wheelhouse, now under three feet of water, was removed from the ship's deck and put to use as a storehouse. McNish hacked an opening through the deck above the old Ritz, disgorging various cases of food, some more useful than others: Containers of sugar and flour floated out to loud cheers, while the appearances of walnuts, onions, and soda carbonate were met with groans.
It was during this time of precarious digging in the bowels of the wrecked ship that Hurley determined to rescue his negatives.
“During the day,” he wrote, “I hacked through the thick walls of the refrigerator to retrieve the negatives stored therein. They were located beneath four feet of mushy ice & by stripping to the waist & diving under I hauled them out. Fortunately they are soldered up in double tin linings, so I am hopeful they may not have suffered by their submersion.”
As the new plan called for eventual recourse to the boats, the weight of personal possessions allowed to each man was still strictly limited. But when Hurley returned with his precious negatives, Shackleton relented.
“I spend the day with Sir Ernest selecting the finest of my negatives from the year's collection,” Hurley wrote on November 9. He resoldered 120 and dumped about 400. “This unfortunate reduction is essential, as a drastic cutting down in weight must be effected owing to the very limited space that will be at disposal in boat transport.” The selected negatives included twenty Paget color as well as 100 whole and half glass plates. He also retrieved an album of already developed prints.
“The wardroom is a pile of broken timber, while as to the fore-hold I did not dare go in lest I should not get out again. … Itwas a sad sight to see the old familiar places broken up.” (Macklin, diary)
Ocean Camp in Distance
This was published in South as “Loneliness.”
“Mind you put your old diary in my bag as it has been kept rather more regularly than mine, I believe,” Shackleton had said to Lees as they abandoned ship. At the back of his mind were the book and story rights he had sold in advance to finance the expedition. Hurley's photographs would be similarly valuable.
Lumber salvaged from the Endurance, foreground, is used to build the new galley. “Half the members went off with dog sledges to the ship & all day long relays of wood, ropes & a few odd provisions were arriving at the camp.” (Lees, diary)
Three tons of salvaged provisions were eventually carried back to Ocean Camp on dogsledges and stored in the former wheelhouse, now nicknamed “the rabbit hutch.” The new camp gained shape. In the center stood the galley, built of sails and spars and containing a stove that Hurley had constructed with a chisel from the ship's ash chute. Nearby stood the line of three domed and two pole tents, close to which the dogs were pegged out in their teams. A platform of deck planking and spars served as a lookout, over which were flown the flags of the King and the Royal Clyde Yacht Club.
A routine was established. At 8:30 a.m., breakfast was served consisting of fried seal, lumps of baked dough called “bannocks,” and tea. Each tent appointed a mess-man, whose job was to bring meals from the galley to the tent. After breakfast, parties went out scouting for seals or did chores around the camp until lunch, at 1 p.m. Afternoons were spent as one chose, generally reading, darning, or walking. At 5:30, penguin stew (“hoosh”) was served with cocoa, and immediately afterward the crew settled into their sleeping bags. Hour watches were set throughout the night, to guard against dogs “coming adrift” or to warn the camp of a sudden breakup of the floe.
The long canvas structure is the galley, made of sails and spars, abutting the ship's salvaged wheelhouse, which was used as a storeroom.
Shackleton and Wild stand in the left foreground; Bakewell's Winchester .30-.30 carbine (a “saddle gun” purchased in Montana) is propped beside Wild. The wood-slatted rear of the storehouse is beyond to the right. Hurley's camera equipment is in cases to the left of Shackleton. The sailors are mostly to the right.
“It is beyond conception, even to us, that we are dwelling on a colossal ice raft, with but five feet of ice separating us from 2,000 fathoms of ocean, & drifting along under the caprices of wind & tides, to heaven knows where.” (Hurley, diary)
The sledging rations originally intended for the continental crossing had been among the first articles evacuated from the ship before the breakup, and were now scrupulously reserved for the boat journey, which was projected to be only a month or two away. Estimates of how long the rest of the salvaged food could last varied from personality to personality: According to Hurley, there was “now sufficient food in the camp augmented with seals and penguins, to last the party nine months.” Lees's practiced calculations, nearer the mark, did not extend much beyond 100 days. Shackleton allocated a pound of food per man per day, a diet that was uncomfortably frugal, but far from starvation. The men's main criticism at this point concerned the monotony of the fare.
Shackleton's tent assignments were characteristically astute.
“He collected with him the ones he thought wouldn't mix with the others. … They were not so easy to get on with, the ones he had in his tent with him—they were quite a mixed bag,” according to Greenstreet. With Shackleton in tent No. 1 were Hurley, Hudson, and James; James had proved to be fair game for teasing and baiting, and his inclusion was for his own good. Hurley was included because his vanity was flattered by being with “the Boss.” Shackleton was very wary of Hurley, whose undoubted competence and somewhat glamorous professional background had won him a following early in the expedition. In terms of mental and physical toughness, Hurley was up with Wild and Crean—but he lacked their unquestionable loyalty. Consequently, Shackleton took pains to “consult” with Hurley, and to include him in all conferences of any importance.
Wild, Wordie, McIlroy, and McNish shared tent No. 2, Shackleton placing the dour carpenter squarely in the midst of men he regarded as “solid,” under Wild's eye. Tent No. 3, a large domed construction, held the eight men from the fo'c'sle, How, Bakewell, McCarthy, McLeod, Vincent, Holness, Stephenson, and Green—who would have expected to remain together. Crean had charge of the generally unproblematic tent No. 4 with Hussey, Marston, and Cheetham; and Worsley was in charge of tent No. 5, the other large tent, with Greenstreet, Lees, Clark, Kerr, Rickinson, Macklin, and Blackborow.
The days passed in largely unrelieved but not altogether unpleasant idleness. Apart from speculations on the progress of the war in Europe, the most impassioned conversations concerned the weather, the wind, and the rate of ice drift.
“The Blizard still continues but we all hope it lasts for a month as we have done 16 miles NW since our last observation,” McNish wrote on November 6, the day of their first heavy snowstorm on the ice. The direction as well as rate of the drift was all-important. Ideally, the generally prevailing northwest current would take them to the long arm of the Palmer Peninsula, in the vicinity of Snow Hill, Robertson, or Paulet Islands; on the other hand, there was a danger that drift might stray to the northeast or east—away from land. It was also possible, of course, that the pack would stall, in which case they would face another winter on the ice.
In mid-November, the weather turned unusually mild, with temperatures in the upper 20s and even 30s. Although the warmth was welcomed as a sign of the impending breakup of the pack, living conditions in general became less comfortable. The camp was mired in slush, through which the men slogged, sometimes falling through rotten snow into hidden pools of water. Inside their tents, the temperature could rise to as much as 70°, now considered oppressively hot. All the tents were supplied with makeshift wooden floors, built of salvaged dog kennel and ship timber, but even these could not keep their sleeping bags entirely above the pools of water. At night, temperatures fell to zero, cold enough for the men's breath to precipitate as a light snow powder in the tents.
Inside, the men lay head to toe, like sardines in a tin, with no room to turn and nowhere to tread when they went out or came in. Inevitably, minor tensions were exacerbated.
“Tent walls are very thin,” Lees wrote, “thinner than this paper, and they have ears on both sides—inside & outside and many are the scrappy bits one hears which one ‘didn't ought' to hear.” The role Lees himself came to play in the group was both fascinating and pathetic. In addition to his many other irritating traits, he was a snorer, and in early November he reported to his diary that “there is a movement on foot to eject me from the 8 man pole tent & make me sleep in the rabbit hutch.” This campaign was successful, and shortly afterward Lees busily put the finishing touches to the sleeping accommodations in the storeroom.
Shackleton, Wild, and an unidentified member of the crew stand right to left. This is one of the last photographs Hurley took with his professional equipment. It was taken sometime between November 9, when the sailors erected the lookout tower, seen with ship's burgee flying beneath the king's flag, and November 22, when Hurley soldered his camera lenses and negatives in hermetically sealed double tin cannisters. He also soldered his album of developed prints in a brass case. After that, all his photographs were taken with his Vest Pocket Kodak and three rolls of film.
The three lifeboats on sledge runners can be seen in the background.
“Sounds of bitter sobs and lamentations are heard this evening from No. 5 tent at the loss of their dearly beloved ‘Colonel' who has removed himself for a season to sleep in his store in the old wheelhouse,” Worsley wrote facetiously. Given Shackle-ton's almost obsessive care to keep his group together, physically and morally, it is striking that he allowed Lees to go off, or be driven off, in this manner. Yet there were clear reasons why he would have wanted Lees neutralized.
“A human being's normal diet should contain the three main constituents of food, protein, fat and carbo-hydrates in the proportion of 1–1–21?2 respectively whatever the actual weights,” Lees recorded in his diary, in a typical entry. “I.e. the carbohydrates (farinaceous foods and sugar) should be more than double the other two.… As it is, our flour will only last out for another ten weeks at the most,” and so on, and on. The sight of Lees's nakedly anxious face, his incessant fussy inventory-taking and worried pronouncements of shortages must have driven Shackleton wild.
It did not help matters that Lees's observations were entirely correct. But Lees does not appear to have grasped the single salient fact of the crew's predicament— that by all rational calculations their situation was not merely desperate but impossible. Any strategy for survival, therefore, could not completely defer to reality; Shackleton's tactics always involved a dangerous gamble of morale against practical necessity. The last thing he needed was for the men to hear Lees's grim invocations of the laws of science and reason. Hence, a move to ostracize Lees, or undermine his credibility, could only have been welcomed by Shackleton.
On the other hand, certain practical measures could be taken, such as the preparation of the boats for their inevitable journey.
“I have been busy since Saturday finishing the sledge for the boat,” wrote McNish on November 16, “& now I am building the boat up 1 foot higher & decking her in half way making her fit to carry the whole party in case we have to make a longer journey than we intisipate at present.” The work was done with his only surviving tools—a saw, hammer, chisel, and adze. Less than two weeks later, he had finished all three boats, but was still tinkering.
“I have started to raise the Dudley Docker a strake higher at my leisure,” he wrote. “It is pass time for me & it makes the boat carry more & more seaworthy.” Everyone who stopped by was impressed by his work. In mid-December McNish was still tinkering with the boats. It was, as he said, “pass time.” The particular object of his care was the twenty-two-foot-long whaler, christened the James Caird after the expe-dition's principal benefactor. The boat had been commissioned by Worsley and built in a Thames dockyard according to his specifications.
“The Wreckage Lies Around in Dismal Confusion. Wild taking a last look at the ship before she sank.” (Shackleton, South) Probably taken on November 14, 1915, when Wild and Hurley walked from Ocean Camp to take a look at the wreck, only seven days before she sank for good.
“Her planking was Baltic pine, keel & timbers American elm & stem & sternpost English oak,” according to Worsley. One of McNish's refinements was to put chafing battens on her bow, as he said, “to keep the young ice from cutting through as she is built of white pine which wont last long in ice.” In lieu of the usual caulking materials—oakum and pitch—McNish had filled the seams with lamp wick and sealed them over with Marston's oil paints. The nails he used had been extracted from salvaged timber of the Endurance.
The landscape around them had subtly changed with the thaw. The convoluted ice fields had softened and were threaded with small, broken leads of water. The days were very long, with the sun rising at 3 a.m. and setting at 9 p.m. The crew passed the time by hunting seals amid the slush, playing cards, and arguing over articles in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In tent No. 5, Clark read aloud from Science from an Easy Chair. Singsongs were still held in the evenings. Marston resoled everyone's boots, and Hurley was absorbed with improvising crampons for the march to the west from Snow Hill Island.
On the evening of November 21, shortly after the dogs had been fed, as the company read and chatted quietly in their tents, they heard Shackleton call out, “She's going.” Hurrying outside to the lookout platform and other points of vantage, the men looked out to see the last moments of the Endurance. Her stern rising high in the air, she went down bows first in one quick dive.
“There was a queer silence over the camp,” according to Bakewell. “As for me, there was an odd lump in my throat and I found it hard to swallow.… We were now very lonely.”
“She's gone, boys,” Shackleton said quietly from the lookout post. In his own diary he wrote, “At 5 p.m. she went down by the head: the stern the cause of all the trouble was the last to go under water. I cannot write about it.”
As the thaw continued, leads of open water increased, making the still occasional salvage trips to Dump Camp and hunting excursions increasingly dangerous. It was with great difficulty that the dog teams negotiated paths through the ever-changing maze of open lanes to collect seals killed earlier by scouting hunters. The floe on which they were encamped had rotated as much as 15 degrees to the east in the loosening ice. Yet the pack as a whole showed no signs of breaking up.
“Really Sir Ernest does not at all ignore the possibility of having to remain on the floe until it reaches the vicinity of the South Orkneys,” Lees reported. “But he does not like it to be discussed for fear of creating a feeling of despondency, especially among the sailors.”
Old landmarks drifted regally across the waterlogged, slurry landscape. The crew's old friend the Rampert Berg was now a mere five miles distant and appeared to be dark blue, a sign that it might be floating in open water. Thick mist sometimes obscured the landscape; wet snow fell, and once actual rain. In late November, a blue sky gave way to showers of hail that fell on the tents with a sound that reminded Wordie of heavy rain on trees. They were drifting northwest at a rate of a little more than two miles a day.
December was not an easy month for Shackleton. Towards the end of November, he had come down with an attack of sciatica, which worsened over the following days, until he was unable to leave his sleeping bag without assistance; it could not have been helped by his lying in a wool bag on waterlogged timber. Worse, his confinement removed him somewhat from the goings-on in camp. James, who shared
This may depict the striking of Ocean Camp, in preparation for the “Christmas march.”
Shackleton's tent, noted that “he was constantly on the watch for any break in morale, or any discontent, so that he could deal with it at once.” Above all else, Shackleton feared losing his grip on his men. The period of illness made him anxious and restive, and when he finally recovered, some two weeks later, he emerged from his tent not altogether in the best of spirits. “Boss hauls cook over the coals for making doughy bannocks,” Hurley recorded on Shackleton's first day up and about. The men, too, were restless, the sailors in particular showing worrisome signs of disaffection.
The entire company monitored the drift of their floe more intently than ever.
“Once across the Antarctic circle (66.31) it will seem as if we are practically half way home again,” Lees noted on December 12. “And it is just possible that with favouring winds we may cross the circle before the new year.” Only a few days later, a strong blizzard arising from the south promised to speed them over the magic line even sooner than anticipated; but on December 18, the wind swung around from the northeast, driving them back the way they had come. More disconcerting was the fact that their drift fluctuated between northwest and a subtle veer to the east, away from land. Shackleton discussed with Wild and Hurley the possibility of making another attempt to march to land, partly to forestall the ominous hint of an eastward drift; partly because, as Wild agreed, “a spell of hard work would do everybody good.” On the 20th, the three men set out to scout the conditions.
“Found the surface & conditions good, there being about 75% of splendid going,” Hurley reported optimistically. Shackleton broke the news to the rest of the company that they would be on the march again on December 23, the day after Mid-summer's
Galley on Ice; Orde-Lees and Green the Cook
Their faces black with smoke from the blubber stove, Lees and Green prepare a meal in the makeshift galley during the ill-fated march from Ocean Camp to Patience Camp.
Day, which was to be celebrated as Christmas. The announcement of this second march came as an unwelcome shock to many. “As far as I have seen the going will be awful,” wrote Greenstreet. “Everything being in a state of softness far worse than when we left the ship, and in my opinion it would be a measure to be taken only as a last resort and I sincerely hope he will give up the idea directly. There have been great arguments about the matter in our tent.”
Despite the grand “blowout” feast for “Christmas,” the breaking of camp on the early morning of the 23rd was not accomplished in universally high spirits. Shackle-ton had determined that they should travel at night, when the surface of the ice was hardest, and consequently the men were awakened at three in the morning on a foggy, dreary day. The abortive first march had been undertaken with genuine optimism. On the second march, many set out in resigned, halfhearted obedience.
Eighteen men straining in harness relayed two of the boats ahead over the now precarious ice; then all hands returned to pack up the remaining supplies. Tents, galley, stores, sledges were dragged as far as the boats, where a new camp was pitched; the third boat was left behind at Ocean Camp. At the end of the first day of eight hours' marching, they had covered approximately one and a quarter miles.
The following days passed in the same dreary and unrewarding routine. Never entirely rested, their hunger never entirely satisfied, and their clothes always wet, the men strained and slipped at their loads over the hummocked and slushy ice, averaging for hours of labor a mile and a half a day. Shackleton's plan had been that they would pull west for sixty miles; by now, even he must have known they would never make this mark.
“A harder or more discouraging march, I have never had the misfortune to participate in,” wrote Bakewell.
On December 27, silent doubts and resentments became dramatically apparent.
“The skipper had trouble with the carpenter to-day whilst sledging,” wrote Wordie. “To-night the company assembled on the floe, and the ship's articles were read.” After struggling over a particularly bad section of ice for two hours, McNish dug in his heels and announced in abusive language he would go no farther.
Shackleton was up ahead with the pioneering party, and it was left to Worsley, who was in charge of the boat haulers, to tackle McNish. This he proved incapable of doing. There had always been tension between the two men; had the boat haulers been under the command of anyone else, the incident might not have arisen. In any case, a flustered Worsley sent for Shackleton, who hastened back from the head of the column.
McNish was exhausted, wet through, suffering from piles, and still heartsick over the loss of his pet, Mrs. Chippy. For weeks, he had complained that he had not been allowed to salvage wood from the Endurance to build a sloop that would carry them all to freedom. Others shared his disappointment. The old salt now turned sea lawyer, arguing that his duty to obey orders had terminated with the abandonment of the Endurance.
Hard words were exchanged between the two men. Technically, McNish's contention was correct. Nonetheless, Shackleton called a muster and read aloud the ship's articles, with a few elaborations of his own: He informed his men that they would be paid up until the day they reached safe port—not, as under normal articles, only until the loss of their ship. Consequently, the men were bound by his orders until that time.
Sledges loaded with supplies—in this case, dog pemmican and cane sugar—were hauled by the dog teams on the march.
McNish cooled down, and the situation passed. But Shackleton remained conscious of the narrowly averted danger. More had been at stake than one disgruntled seaman. Not only had McNish disobeyed orders at a moment of critically low morale, but he had also, as it were, defied Shackleton's optimistic pronouncements. It was now impossible to pretend that their painful efforts held any hope of success. Perhaps Shackleton's muttering critics had been right, and they should not have moved from Ocean Camp; perhaps Chippy should have built his sloop. McNish's brief rebellion had suggested the unthink-able—that the Boss was capable of significant error.
In this fraught context, Shackleton's reluctant decision to suspend the march two days later was both bitter and courageous. The ice ahead was completely unnegotiable, forcing not only a halt, but a retreat of half a mile to stronger footing. The men retired at 10 p.m., without a meal.
Hurley and Shackleton sit before the entrance to their tent. Hurley (left) is skinning a penguin for fuel for the blubber stove between them, which he built.
“Turned in but could not sleep,” Shackleton wrote in his diary. “Thought the whole matter over & decided to retreat to more secure ice: it is the only safe thing to do.… Am anxious. … Everyone working well except the carpenter: I shall never forget him in this time of strain & stress.”
A sturdy-looking floe was chosen for the new camp; but the following day the opening of a deep crack forced them to shift again. The ice, they now discovered, was not as stable as it had been at their previous camp.
“All the floes in the neighborhood appear to be saturated by the sea to the very surface,” wrote Worsley. “So much that on cutting 1 inch below the surface of a 6 or 7 feet thick floe, water almost at once flows into the hole.” But the men were stuck; the floes behind them had disintegrated too much for further retreat.
A week's backbreaking labor had gained the party eight miles. Behind them, at Ocean Camp, lay additional stores, books, clothing, an efficient stove, wood for the floors of their tents—a comfortable routine. Moreover, the boats they dragged with them at such cost had been damaged by the journey.
“I heard the Carpenter say that if we had to go over much more such rough ice, the boats would not float when we did reach open water,” Bakewell recalled. One can be sure McNish took pains to make this piece of information widely known. He had got his revenge; above all else, the sailors feared damage to the precious boats.
Despite all bitter setbacks and second thoughts, life on the floes had to be reestablished. The tents were set up in a line along the treacherous snow, parallel to the dogs.
“We have called our camp Patience Camp,” wrote Lees.
It was now January 1916, and still the pack showed no sign of breaking up. Moreover, the wind had stalled, keeping the crew just short of the 66th parallel. The days and weeks passed with renewed tedium and moody tension.
“Playing a game of wait almost wearies one's patience,” Hurley wrote, with uncharacteristic impatience; he was normally as resilient to their circumstances as any member of the expedition. To pass the time, the men took walks around the perimeter of their floe, read, played bridge, and lay in their sleeping bags. McNish ostentatiously recaulked the damaged boats, using seal blood. Their predicament was now analyzed as it had not been before.
“The Boss at any rate has changed his mind yet once again,” wrote Wordie dryly. “He now intends waiting for leads, and just as firmly believes he will get them, as he did a week ago that the ice would be fit for sledging the boats at the rate of ten miles a day.” Shackleton himself was preoccupied and moody, and not at all amenable to well-intentioned suggestions. Lees was openly frantic over the state of their supplies, and daily roamed off on unauthorized seal hunts across the rotting ice; Worsley was eventually put in charge of “minding” him. Green-street's suggestion that every seal and penguin that approached the camp should be killed and stored was met with impatience by Shackleton.
Sue's Pups—the Ikeys
At first the dogs had been merely sledging animals; but as the long months on the ice progressed they became companions, providing the men with their chief diversion. Hurley devotes an entire chapter to “Sledge Dog Pals” in his book Argonauts of the South.
“ ‘Oh,' he said,” according to Greenstreet, “ ‘You're a bloody pessimist. That would put the wind up the fo'c'sle crowd, they'd think we were never going to get out.' “ But food had become a real worry; seals had been scarce, and supplies of meat and blubber were dwindling.
On January 14, the teams of Wild, Crean, McIlroy, and Marston were shot, twenty-seven dogs in all. No more use was envisioned for them, and the food they consumed had become too valuable; their “dog pemmican” would become a staple of the men's diet.
“This duty fell upon me & was the worst job I ever had in my life,” Wild reported. “I have known many men I would rather shoot than the worst of the dogs.” This necessity upset all the men.
“One of the saddest events since we left Home,” as McNish recorded. The same evening, Hurley and Macklin were authorized to make a dangerous run with their teams to Ocean Camp. With some difficulty, they returned with 900 pounds of stores the following day. This was the last run for Hurley's team.
“Wild shot my team during the afternoon,” Hurley wrote, then bade farewell to his favorite dog. “Hail to thee old leader Shakespeare, I shall ever remember thee—fearless, faithful & diligent.”
Hussey and Samson
The smallest member of the expedition and one of the biggest dogs.
At last, on January 21, after a month of maddening calm, a blizzard from the southwest blew them across the Antarctic Circle into familiar waters. They were now within 150 miles of Snow Hill Island, although very much to its east. Shackleton celebrated the occasion by issuing each man an extra bannock. Nevertheless, an excursion made some days later by Wordie and Worsley to a nearby berg revealed that the long-awaited breakup was nowhere in sight.
“Ice almost everywhere,” Wordie reported, after having climbed the berg for a lookout position. Because seals were scarce, their stores of blubber were now dwindling. To conserve fuel, Shackleton cut down the daily ration of hot drinks to a single cup of tea in the morning.
At the end of January, the vagaries of the pack rotated their old Ocean Camp to within less than six miles—and ironically, in a more desirable westerly position than they themselves now held. On February 2, Shackleton authorized the retrieval of the third boat that had been left behind, the Stancomb Wills.
“It has taken a long time to persuade the Boss to this move,” Wordie noted, “and I doubt if he would have done it, had it not been for the general feeling in camp.” No one believed that the two boats alone could have contained the whole company. Shackleton had resisted authorizing the trip, being morbidly afraid of losing men to unnecessary accidents. But with all three boats safe in camp, everyone was in better spirits, the sailors in particular—although this was generally thought to be as much because of the big bundle of salvaged items they had secreted into their tent as to the arrival of the Stancomb Wills.
Time continued to drag on. Shackleton ordered the refuse pile of old seal bones, flippers, and discarded bits and pieces picked over for blubber. “The seal question” was getting very serious; they were now running short of not only blubber for fuel, but meat for food.
“So there is nothing for it but get into our sleeping bags. And smoke away the hunger,” wrote McNish. “What [Prime Minister] Loyde George calls a luxery for working men.”
Wet weather and driving snow kept the men inside their tents, while the tents themselves were more sodden than ever. The groundsheet of tent No. 5 had been commandeered to make a sail for one of the boats. In its stead, oilskin jackets and trousers, two blankets, and a sea leopard's skin were now all that lay between the sleeping bags and wet snow. Several of the tents had been rent by gales, and were in any case so thin that a gust of wind outside blew cigarette smoke within.
In early February, Lees was rebuked by Shackleton for making pessimistic statements.
“It is well to record these little sidelights on expeditionary life,” wrote Lees, with no sign of ill feeling. “As they are usually expunged from the published books, or at most left to be read between the lines.” Shackleton had continued to restrict Lees's seal-hunting excursions, claiming—incorrectly—that enough meat had been laid by to last a month. This restriction alienated even the loyal Worsley, and Shackleton's optimism was meeting with private cynicism on many fronts.
“His sublime optimism all the way thro being to my mind absolute foolishness,” wrote Greenstreet. “Everything right away thro was going to turn out all right and no notice was taken of things possibly turning out otherwise and here we are.” It is hard to judge Shackleton's rationale. He could not have been more keenly attuned to the moods of his men, and none of their discontent on this issue could have escaped him. Moreover, he was not one to let his pride prevent him from reversing a bad decision. Rather, Shackleton's dogged resistance to laying by more than a few weeks' supply of food was governed by a carefully reasoned ethic. His main concern was always for the morale of the sailors, and none of these men left diaries, so it is impossible to determine their state of mind. From other accounts one gleans suggestions that they were both more despondent and more troublesome than was ever directly stated. The wardroom members—the officers and scientists—had come south with the expectation of wintering on the ice, and of making sledging excursions. Lees's thoughts at the start of the ill-fated second march are illuminating.
“Were it not for a little natural anxiety as to our ultimate progress I have never been happier in my life than I am now, for is not this kind of existence the ‘real thing,' the thing I have for years set my heart on. …” He had set his heart on a tasteof the man-hauling epics of Scott's heroic age, and it was precisely for such an experience that many of the men had joined Shackleton. But not the sailors. Their lives centered on their ships, and their ship had been lost. And while they too had come south with Shackleton for adventure, sagas of man-hauling stoicism were not in their frames of reference. They did not wish to entertain the possibility of spending another winter on the ice; they wanted to take to the boats. Shackleton's prime objective was to keep his men unified—and this may have necessitated some apparently illogical decisions.
Towards the end of February, the sudden appearance of a flock of little Adélie penguins came as a boon to the hungry men. Three hundred were taken. Their flesh served as food, their skins as fuel for the galley stove. The temperatures had started to fall, and the men complained of feeling cold even in their bags.
“I have had no sleep for the last to nights with the cold,” wrote McNish. Shackle-ton visited the tents in turn, settling in each to spin yarns, recite poetry, or play bridge.
“The food now is pretty well all meat,” Greenstreet wrote. “Seal steaks, stewed seal, penguin steaks, stewed penguin, penguin liver.… The cocoa has been finished for some time and the tea is very nearly done.… Flour also is very nearly finished.” With Lees and Green, the cook, Shackleton fretted over the daily menu, conspiring with them ways to make it more satisfying. Seals and penguins permitting, “special occasions” were celebrated to break the monotony.
“In honour of Leap Year Day & the escape of some of our batchelors from the Fair Sex, we have 3 full meals with a hot beverage to each,” Worsley wrote on February 29, “and so we all feel well fed & happy tonight.”
The drift of the pack was once again averaging two miles per day. By early March they were only seventy miles from Paulet Island. Snow Hill Island already lay behind them.
On March 7, a blizzard arose, the heaviest snowfall since they had entered the ice. Too cold to read or play cards, the men lay in the tents, huddled in bags that had frozen as stiff as sheet iron. Two days later, digging out sledges and gear from the four feet of drift that had fallen, a curious motion was detected in the pack: the swell of the ocean beneath them. The following day, Shackleton organized drills to practice loading the boats, so as to be ready at a moment's notice in the event their floe broke under them.
The ice parted some days later, but then quickly closed again. Still they drifted north, moving farther and farther up the Palmer Peninsula. They were drawing abreast of Paulet Island.
March 21 marked the first day of winter. The hours of light shrank each day as the weather grew colder. On the morning of March 23, Shackleton sighted land to the west. “There has been a lot of doubt in the skipper's part,” wrote McNish, with sardonic satisfaction. “As he never saw it first. After being on the look out this last 2 months & reporting so many bergs as being land he is feeling quite sick over it being seen by any one else.” But it was true land—the jagged, snow-covered ridges of Joinville Island, the first land the men had seen in sixteen months.
“If the ice opens we could land in a day,” Hurley wrote. But the ice didn't open. Still the pack held, too loose to cross on foot, too close to sail, and still it drifted north. Day by day, Shackleton silently watched as his worst fears were realized. They were approaching the very farthest tip of the Palmer Peninsula; soon there would be no more land ahead.
On March 30, the last of the dogs were shot, and the younger ones eaten. There were no expressions of regret this time, only grim acceptance of the necessity and pleasure at the unexpected tastiness of their meat. Several big seals were also killed, and the men had their first good feed in two weeks. The sledging rations were still held, relatively untouched, in reserve.
“Such a life ages one,” Hurley noted in his diary. That same night, March 31, their floe was riven by a crack that separated the men from the boats. Shackleton set all hands on “watch and watch”—half the camp on duty at all times—but the ice held throughout the rest of the night. Days of heavy wind followed, and the men lay in their bags with nothing to do but talk, while the floe bumped under them. Lees became seasick.
Worsley's sightings indicated that the floe was travelling faster than the wind was blowing it; evidently the disintegrating pack was now in the grip of strong currents. At dawn on April 7, daylight revealed the precipitous snow-streaked mountains of Clarence Island; later in the day, the sharp peaks of Elephant Island showed just west of north. With almost bewildering speed, the drift now carried them directly north towards the islands. It then veered alarmingly to the west, beyond striking range of either island; then swerved east again, bringing the two islands directly ahead. Every day saw new contingencies and necessitated new plans. Wildlife became abundant, with gulls, petrels, and terns overhead, and whales blowing in the leads.
On the evening of April 8, the ice cracked once again, right under the James Caird. Pitching like a ship at sea, the floe broke down to a triangle measuring some 90 by 100 by 120 yards.
“I felt that the time for launching the boats was near at hand,” wrote Shackleton. After breakfast on April 9, camp was struck, and the boats prepared. The men ate a last good meal while standing at the ready.
At 1 p.m., Shackleton gave the long-awaited order to launch the boats. Positions had been designated months before: The James Caird, the large whaler, was commanded by Shackleton and Wild, and on board were Clark, Hurley, Hussey, James, Wordie, McNish, Green, Vincent, and McCarthy. In the Dudley Docker, under the command of Worsley, were Greenstreet, Kerr, Lees, Macklin, Cheetham, Marston, McLeod, and Holness. And in the smallest and least seaworthy boat, the Stancomb Wills, Rickinson, McIlroy, How, Bakewell, Blackborow, and Stephenson were under the command of Hudson and Crean.
At 1:30 p.m., the boats pushed off. There was a heavy swell, and the lanes of open water zigzagged erratically between the lurching floes.
“Our first day in the water was one of the coldest and most dangerous of the expedition,” wrote Bakewell. “The ice was running riot. It was a hard race to keep our boats in the open leads.… [W]e had many narrow escapes from being crushed when the larger masses of the pack would come together.”
The men had been trapped in the ice for fifteen months. But their real ordeal had just begun.
First landing on Elephant Island
April, 15, 1915: Solid land after 497 days on ice and sea. “The Boss, the Skipper, the cook and Hurley went on board the ‘Wills,' and helped her crew to take her up a small creek in the rocks.… She then made trips to and fro under Tom Crean's charge.” (Wordie, diary)