Yet another centenary and an epic story of survival


Shackleton in 1901, aged 27. Portrait by an unidentified photographer 

Visitors to Fairlynch Museum’s Antarctic exhibition a few years ago were fascinated by the story of former Budleigh resident Murray Levick and his five companions, members of Captain Scott’s ill-fated ‘Terra Firma’ expedition. The group succeeded against all the odds in surviving the six-month polar winter, sheltering for much of the time in a snow cave.

Antarctic expert Meredith Hooper and me at Fairlynch's 'Survival!' exhibition in 2012

Fairlynch’s exhibition was praised by, among others, the writer and broadcaster Meredith Hooper. The Australian-born Antarctic expert was one of the guest authors attending Budleigh Salterton’s 2012 Literary Festival to talk about her book The Longest Winter: Scott's Other Heroes.  

The Endurance, listing heavily, immediately before being crushed by the ice, October 1915.  Photo by Frank Hurley 

Meredith has been busy with yet another project involving the courage of polar explorers a century ago. This time it’s the Royal Geographical Society’s remarkable new exhibition in London that she has curated to honour the achievements of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the men of the Endurance expedition of 1914-1917.

A depiction of the James Caird lifeboat landing at South Georgia at the end of its voyage on 10 May 1916

Shackleton’s first experience of the polar regions was as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition 1901–04. During the second expedition of 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. On this occasion, 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 and a few months later with Scott’s tragic death, 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. It was Shackleton's most famous exploit, and revealed him as a role model for leadership, distinguished by the way in which he kept his team together in extreme circumstances.

The exhibition opened to the public on Saturday 21 November 2015, exactly 100 years to the day that the crushed Endurance sank beneath the ice of the Weddell Sea.

The exhibition is free to all and open daily, at the RGS in Exhibition Road, London, running until 28 February 2016, before being taken to other UK and international venues.  

Photographer Frank Hurley at work next to the Endurance

At the heart of the exhibition are more than 90 newly digitalised images, taken by Shackleton’s official expedition photographer Frank Hurley, and saved by him under the most extreme circumstances to provide one of the greatest ever photographic records of human survival.


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