Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton c. 1909
Shackleton c. 1909
Ernest Henry Shackleton

(1874-02-15)15 February 1874
Died5 January 1922(1922-01-05) (aged 47)
OccupationMerchant Navy officer and Antarctic explorer
Emily Dorman (m. 1904)
ChildrenRaymond, Cecily, and Edward
  • Henrietta Gavan
  • Henry Shackleton
RelativesJane Shackleton (cousin-in-law)
  • Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp (1909)
  • Vega Medal (1910)
  • Boston Medal, with bar (1910)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branchRoyal Navy
British Army
Years of service1901-1907, 1917-1919
RankLieutenant (RNR)
Major (British Army)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Russian Civil War
AwardsOfficer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE)
Mentioned in dispatches

Shackleton as a young man

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton CVO OBE FRGS (n/; 15 February 1874 – 5 January 1922) was a British[3] polar explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.[4]

Born in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom), Shackleton and his Anglo-Irish family[5] moved to Sydenham in suburban south London when he was ten. His first experience of the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition 1901–1904, from which he was sent home early on health grounds, after he and his companions Scott and Edward Adrian Wilson set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S. During the second expedition 1907–1909 he and three companions established a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 97 geographical miles (112 statute miles, 180 km) from the South Pole, the largest advance to the pole in exploration history. Also, members of his team climbed Mount Erebus, the most active Antarctic volcano. For these achievements, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.

After the race to the South Pole ended in December 1911 with Roald Amundsen's conquest, Shackleton turned his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end he made preparations for what became the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. Disaster struck this expedition when its ship, Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and was slowly crushed before the shore parties could be landed. The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrated, then by launching the lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately the inhabited island of South Georgia, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles and Shackleton's most famous exploit. In 1921, he returned to the Antarctic with the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition, but died of a heart attack while his ship was moored in South Georgia. At his wife's request he was buried there.

Away from his expeditions, Shackleton's life was generally restless and unfulfilled. In his search for rapid pathways to wealth and security, he launched business ventures which failed to prosper, and he died heavily in debt. Upon his death, he was lauded in the press, but was thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott was sustained for many decades. Later in the 20th century, Shackleton was "rediscovered",[6] and rapidly became a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together in a survival story described by cultural historian Stephanie Barczewski as "incredible".[7] In his 1956 address to the British Association, Sir Raymond Priestley, one of his contemporaries, said "Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton", paraphrasing what Apsley Cherry-Garrard had written in a preface to The Worst Journey in the World.[8][9] In 2002, Shackleton was voted eleventh in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.

Early years


Blue plaque marking the home of Ernest Shackleton at 12 Westwood Hill, Sydenham, London Borough of Lewisham

Ernest Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874 in Kilkea near Athy, County Kildare, Ireland (then part of the United Kingdom), about 46 miles (74 km) from Dublin. Ernest's father was Henry Shackleton, and his mother was Henrietta Letitia Sophia Gavan. His father's family was English, originally from Yorkshire. His mother's family were Anglo-Irish and were descended from the Fitzmaurices, who had settled in counties Cork and Kerry after the Anglo-Norman invasion.[10] Ernest was the second of their ten children and the first of two sons; the second, Frank, achieved notoriety as a suspect, later exonerated, in the 1907 theft of the Irish Crown Jewels.[11]

In 1880, when Ernest was six, Henry Shackleton gave up his life as a landowner to study medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, moving his family into the city.[12] Four years later, the family moved again, from Ireland to Sydenham in suburban London. Partly this was in search of better professional prospects for the newly qualified doctor, but another factor may have been unease about their Anglo-Irish ancestry, following the assassination by Irish nationalists of Lord Frederick Cavendish, the British Secretary for Ireland, in 1882.[12]


Dulwich College, south London (a modern photograph)

From early childhood, Shackleton was a voracious reader, a pursuit which sparked a passion for adventure.[13] He was schooled by a governess until the age of eleven, when he began at Fir Lodge Preparatory School in West Hill, Dulwich, in southeast London. At the age of thirteen, he entered Dulwich College.[12] The young Shackleton did not particularly distinguish himself as a scholar, and was said to be "bored" by his studies.[12] He was quoted later as saying: "I never learned much geography at school ... Literature, too, consisted in the dissection, the parsing, the analysing of certain passages from our great poets and prose-writers ... teachers should be very careful not to spoil [their pupils'] taste for poetry for all time by making it a task and an imposition."[12] In his final term at the school he was still able to achieve fifth place in his class of thirty-one.[14]

Merchant Navy officer

Shackleton in 1901, aged 27

Shackleton's restlessness at school was such that he was allowed to leave at 16 and go to sea.[15] The options available were a Royal Naval cadetship at HMS Britannia, which Dr Shackleton could not afford; the mercantile marine cadet ships Worcester and Conway; or an apprenticeship "before the mast" on a sailing vessel. The third option was chosen.[15] His father was able to secure him a berth with the North Western Shipping Company, aboard the square-rigged sailing ship Hoghton Tower.[15]

During the following four years at sea, Shackleton learned his trade, visiting the far corners of the earth and forming acquaintances with a variety of people from many walks of life, learning to be at home with all kinds of men.[16] In August 1894, he passed his examination for Second Mate and accepted a post as third officer on a tramp steamer of the Welsh Shire Line.[16] Two years later, he had obtained his First Mate's ticket, and in 1898, he was certified as a Master Mariner, qualifying him to command a British ship anywhere in the world.[16]

In 1898, Shackleton joined Union-Castle Line, the regular mail and passenger carrier between Southampton and Cape Town. He was, as a shipmate recorded, "a departure from our usual type of young officer", content with his own company though not aloof, "spouting lines from Keats [and] Browning", a mixture of sensitivity and aggression but, withal, sympathetic.[17] Following the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, Shackleton transferred to the troopship Tintagel Castle where, in March 1900, he met an army lieutenant, Cedric Longstaff, whose father Llewellyn W. Longstaff was the main financial backer of the National Antarctic Expedition then being organised in London.[18] Shackleton used his acquaintance with the son to obtain an interview with Longstaff senior, with a view to obtaining a place on the expedition. Longstaff, impressed by Shackleton's keenness, recommended him to Sir Clements Markham, the expedition's overlord, making it clear that he wanted Shackleton accepted.[18] On 17 February 1901, his appointment as third officer to the expedition's ship Discovery was confirmed; on 4 June he was commissioned into the Royal Navy, with the rank of sub-lieutenant in the Reserves.[19][20] Although officially on leave from Union-Castle, this was in fact the end of Shackleton's Merchant Navy service.[18]

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Ernest Şeklton
български: Ърнест Шакълтън
Bahasa Indonesia: Ernest Shackleton
македонски: Ернест Шеклтон
Nederlands: Ernest Shackleton
norsk nynorsk: Ernest Shackleton
Plattdüütsch: Ernest Shackleton
Simple English: Ernest Shackleton
slovenčina: Ernest Shackleton
српски / srpski: Ернест Шеклтон
українська: Ернест Шеклтон
Tiếng Việt: Ernest Shackleton