Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance diaries and boots – as well as the largest remaining piece of the doomed vessel – have gone on display in Cambridge, almost 100 years since the ship was crushed and sunk by pack ice in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea.

This exhibition captures the spirit of Shackleton and his men as they endured unspeakable hardship.

Alexandra Shackleton

By Endurance We Conquer: Shackleton and his Men draws on the world’s largest and pre-eminent collection of Shackleton and Endurance artefacts and archives, held in Cambridge, and is the major international exhibition of the centenary celebrations.

Running at Scott Polar Research Institute’s Polar Museum until June 2016, the unique exhibition puts on display many rarely seen objects such as Shackleton’s diaries, and for the first time, letters by Huberht Hudson, the ship’s navigator.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914-17 set out to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. However, in November 1915, Shackleton and his 28-man crew were confronted with one of the worst disasters in Antarctic history when Endurance was trapped, crushed and sunk by pack ice. The outside world was unaware of their predicament or location, food was scarce and the chance of survival was remote.

The Cambridge exhibition draws together, for the first time in decades, the navigation equipment used by Shackleton and a five-man crew on their remarkable 800-mile open boat journey in the James Caird. The 23ft lifeboat had to battle deadly storms in the Southern Ocean as it sailed to South Georgia to raise the alarm. A replica of the vessel sits outside the Polar Museum – serving as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced as Shackleton sought rescue for his trapped crew.

Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Sir Ernest, said: “This exhibition captures the spirit of Shackleton and his men as they endured unspeakable hardship. Visitors to the exhibition will have the opportunity to explore this extraordinary story of human courage. ”

As well as Shackleton’s technical logs, other archive material on display includes Shackleton’s engraved pannikin (drinking tankard), a memory map drawn by Frank Worsley -showing the route taken during the South Georgia crossing - and the hunting knife belonging to the geologist James Wordie, used to explore the contents of penguin stomachs for gizzard stones that revealed the geology underneath the sea ice.

While the majority of Endurance now sits more than 10,000ft below the sea ice of the Weddell Sea, a tiny handful of remnants of the doomed ship do remain. By far the largest single surviving piece of Endurance (9ft long) is going on display in Cambridge.

The ‘Endurance spar’ was part of Endurance’s mast and brought back from Antarctica by James Wordie where it had been used to build an observation tower to hunt for food. For many years, this last great piece of Shackleton’s ship hung in the Friends room of the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge and is on public display for the first time.

SPRI Director Julian Dowdeswell said:  “Shackleton's Endurance expedition and modern polar research share the essential characteristic that only as a team can you operate successfully in the harsh conditions of the Antarctic and Arctic.”


Creative Commons License
The text in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. For image use please see separate credits above.