Explorer Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition – better known as the Endurance Expedition – launched in the summer of 1914. On 18 January 1915, Endurance became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea. The crew worked and lived on the ice surrounding the ship, trying to carefully navigate Endurance through the ice before it eventually sank, forcing the crew to flee across the ice to safety. Endurance wouldn’t be seen again for 107 years, until she was discovered in the waters of Antarctica during the Endurance22 expedition.
Among the crew of the Endurance was the Australian photographer Frank Hurley, who documented many aspects of the ill-fated voyage on film and in still photographs. As the negatives were heavy and the crew were marooned waiting for rescue, Hurley had to destroy or discard many of the images he captured. Some of Hurley’s negatives survived the treacherous journey home, however.
Here are 15 of Hurley’s iconic images of the Endurance Expedition.
The darkness of Antarctica could be difficult for a ship to navigate in. Lights and ropes were attached to ice mounds to help the ship move through the ice.
Over 5,000 men responded to the advertisement “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success”. 56 were carefully selected and split into two teams of 28, one on the Endurance and one on the Aurora.
Cheetham served as third-officer and was known to be popular and cheerful. After the expedition, Cheetham returned home to Hull where he was informed that his son had been lost at sea. He then enlisted in the Mercantile Marine, serving on the SS Prunelle where, on 22 August 1918, the ship was torpedoed and Cheetham was killed. Crean had taken part in 3 major Antarctic expeditions with this being his last. After returning home to County Kerry, he retired from naval service, started a family and opened a pub.
The team was not just made up of humans, 100 dogs from Canada accompanied the crew. The dogs were cross-breeds from strong dogs including wolves, collies and mastiffs that would help pull crew and supplies across the ice. After the crew was left stranded on the ice, the men made the dogs igloos – or dogloos as the crew named them – for the dogs to live in. The men formed incredibly close bonds with their dogs.
During the expedition, puppies were born to ensure that the number of dogs was kept high for work.
After the Endurance sank and the men became trapped on the ice, they made the difficult decision to shoot the dogs. Shackleton said that “it was the worst job that we had had throughout the Expedition, and we felt their loss keenly”.
Life aboard a ship could be hardwork and incredibly demanding. The conditions of work were even more challenging when facing the harsh climate of Antarctica.
The frustrations felt by the crew after becoming trapped in the ice could have led to low morale. To keep their spirits up, the crew would play games including chess and enjoy dinners together.
Food was vital to the daily lives of the crew and would occupy their minds. It was important that the men had a hearty meal for energy and warmth but to also ensure that supplies were kept to last the entire expedition. You can see from this photograph that the crew appear to be tucking into a plate of baked beans! Shackleton and the crew even sat down for a Christmas dinner in 1914 that included a feast of turtle soup, christmas pudding, rum, stout and whitebait.
Despite their best efforts, the Endurance was eventually crushed by the ice on 27 October 1915. Remarkably, all members of the crew survived and enough supplies were saved to set up camps on the ice.
Due to the ice beginning to crack, the crew had to journey to a new location, Elephant Island, to make camp. After 497 days at sea in desperate search of land, they landed on Elephant Island on 15 April 1916. Though the Island was not their first choice, due to its treacherous landscape and inhospitable climate, the men were overjoyed to finally be on land.
A hut was made on Elephant Island out of the two remaining boats Starcomb Wills and Dudley Docker which sheltered 22 men for 4 months. When food started to become scarce, the crew would hunt and eat the wildlife of Antarctica including seals and penguins. The crew also had to endure ill health and frostbite as well as not knowing if they will be rescued or if they will die before help arrives.
Shackleton, knowing that if they did not get help the men would starve, decided to journey to South Georgia Island in search of help. He was accompanied by 5 members of the crew – Worsley, Crean, McNish, Vincent and McCarthy.
After 4 months, Shackleton returned to his crew on Elephant Island. Through courage and determination, all 28 men of the Endurance survived.
To learn more about Shackleton and the ill-fated Endurance expedition, listen to Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Dan Snow discuss Shackleton’s remarkable career.