On this day, one hundred years ago, the 28-man crew of Endurance, members of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Sir Earnest Shackleton, abandoned the ship, onto the ice of the Weddell Sea, off the coast of west Antarctica.
On January 9, 1909, along with Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams, Shackleton had completed the longest advance south over the Antarctic continent in history, setting a new farthest-south mark at 88°23’S, only 112 statute miles from the South Pole and more than 400 statute miles farther than the previous record. For this and other accomplishments, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward III.
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition intended to conduct a march across the continent from Vahsel Bay, on the Weddell Sea, to McMurdo sound (near the location of the current McMurdo Station.) Endurance had departed the the Grytviken whaling station on South Georgia on December 5, 1914 and sailed south. The ship was beset in ice on January 18, 1915. Shackleton wrote in South of his thoughts on February 14, 1915:
“I had not abandoned hope of getting clear, but was counting now on the possibility of having to spend a winter in the inhospitable arms of the pack. The sun, which had been above the horizon for two months, set at midnight on the 17th, and, although it would not disappear until April, its slanting rays warned us of the approach of winter. Pools and leads appeared occasionally, but they froze over very quickly.”
On October 24, 1915, the ice floes of the Weddell Sea finally overcame the Endurance, and its hull began to give way.
“Then on Sunday, October 24, there came what for the ‘Endurance’ was the beginning of the end. The position was lat. 69° 11´ S., long. 51° 5´ W. We had now twenty-two and a half hours of daylight, and throughout the day we watched the threatening advance of the floes. At 6.45 p.m. the ship sustained heavy pressure in a dangerous position…The onslaught was all but irresistible. The ‘Endurance’ groaned and quivered as her starboard quarter was forced against the floe, twisting the sternpost and starting the heads and ends of planking. The ice had lateral as well as forward movement, and the ship was twisted and actually bent by the stresses. She began to leak dangerously at once.”
Cruelly, on the 20th, just four days earlier, hopes had been high that the ship might escape the ice.
“A strong south-westerly wind was blowing on October 20 and the pack was working. The ‘Endurance’ was imprisoned securely in the pool, but our chance might come at any time. Watches were set so as to be ready for working ship… At 11 a.m. we gave the engines a gentle trial turn astern. Everything worked well after eight months of frozen inactivity, except that the bilge-pump and the discharge proved to be frozen up; they were cleared with some little difficulty.”
On October 27, there was nothing to do but survive.
“Then came a fateful day–Wednesday, October 27. The position was lat. 69° 5´ S., long. 51° 30´ W. The temperature was -8.5° Fahr., a gentle southerly breeze was blowing and the sun shone in a clear sky.
‘After long months of ceaseless anxiety and strain, after times when hope beat high and times when the outlook was black indeed, the end of the ‘Endurance’ has come. But though we have been compelled to abandon the ship, which is crushed beyond all hope of ever being righted, we are alive and well, and we have stores and equipment for the task that lies before us. The task is to reach land with all the members of the Expedition. It is hard to write what I feel. To a sailor his ship is more than a floating home, and in the ‘Endurance’ I had centred ambitions, hopes, and desires. Now, straining and groaning, her timbers cracking and her wounds gaping, she is slowly giving up her sentient life at the very outset of her career.'”