Saturday, January 05, 2008

SOUTH by Ernest Shackleton

The Book: Ernest Shackleton, SOUTH: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage. Carroll & Graf trade paperback, 1998. Good condition; spine is creased, front cover is creased at spine.
First read: 1998
Owned since: 1998

Obsession fascinates me, and persistence humbles me. Few humans have been more obsessed or more persistent than Sir Ernest Shackleton, who closes this memoir with plans for his next trip south: "Though some [of the expedition] have gone there are enough left to rally round and form a nucleus for the next Expedition, when troublous times are over and scientific exploration can once more be legitimately undertaken."

Nowhere in South, Shackleton's memoir of the Endurance expedition, does he discuss the reasons for his obsession with Antarctica, or what he personally hoped to achieve. As Edmund Hillary said of Everest, Shackleton went because it was there. The reasons for his attachment must have been so obvious to him that he saw no need to discuss them. As he wrote elsewhere, "We all have our own white South."

South includes photographs of the expedition party; the most moving is one of Shackleton's favorite dog, Samson, who died with the others who were sacrificed to the men's starvation. Shackleton writes, "Owing to this shortage of food and the fact that we needed all that we could get for ourselves, I had to order all the dogs except two teams to be shot. It was the worst job that we had had throughout the Expedition, and we felt their loss keenly." Four months later, the party had to shoot the last two teams.

Shackleton died in 1922, making one last voyage to Antarctica. He was 47 years old. In the years between returning from the Endurance expedition and his last trip, he had started drinking heavily and eating too much. He supported himself by lecturing on his adventures, and all the proceeds of this book went to pay off investors in the Endurance expedition. He was in no shape to make another strenuous trip, and had a massive heart attack while his ship, the Quest, stopped at Rio de Janeiro on the way south. Undeterred, Shackleton refused to be treated. He died in the early morning hours of January 5, 1922, hours after seeing South Georgia again for the last time. He is buried there; his comrades returned his body to England, but Shackleton's wife, Emily, decided he belonged in the place he loved best.

It's an odd coincidence that I happen to be posting this today, the 86th anniversary of Shackleton's death. If you think of it, take a moment today to toast the memory of the brave, foolish, determined man who saved his people, but could not save himself.


Larry said...

Fascinating story. I had not heard of this tale before today. Given all the benefits modern technology provides for us, I frequently reflect on how man survived and evolved given the limited resources available at the time. Gives me pause to consider how we will be perceived 100 years from now. We simply don't understand how primitive we are.


AnswerGirl said...

I just discovered that prints of Frank Hurley's photographs are actually available for sale from the Royal Geographic Society; not sure what they cost, but the images are online at