RGSSA Library Catalogue

Monday, 27 January 2014

Stuck in the Ice


Das Eismeer (The Sea of Ice), by Caspar Friedrich (1774-1840),
inspired by William Parry's Arctic expedition of 1819-20
January 2014 was enlivened by the misadventure of the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, chartered by the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, that got stuck in the Antarctic ice.

Maybe I ought to stress at this point that all the opinions in this blog are mine alone and do not represent the views of the Royal Geographical Society of South Australia.

So I'm gonna say this. All the interviews I saw on TV gave me the impression the "scientific" team had no idea of the conditions they'd be facing—and gee, know what? It isn't the first time, by any means! The whole history of polar exploration is one of being stuck in the ice. But by the 21st century? I'd suggest there is absolutely no excuse for this misadventure. It's a dangerous environment, it's known to be a dangerous environment, and anyone who blithely sails into it unprepared, never mind it's "summer," what a misnomer, is asking for it and shouldn't be surprised when they get it. I see that The Australian headlined its report of 22 January "Ship of fools": good on it. (You can read it at http://www.sott.net/article/272363-Ship-of-fools-Icebound-expeditioners-apologise-for-Antarctic-rescue-mission ) Its comment reads: "And no, Chris Turney [the spokesperson] aka 'the Penguin' is no experienced Antarctic scientist unless we add political scientists and spin doctors into the equation." Zat so? Why am I not surprised to hear it?
    Of course Harry was down there at about the same time, putting himself at risk, which is entirely his own business, but also putting the lives of those who might have had to rescue him at risk. Thank you for that, Your Royal Highness. It's a miracle you and your lot didn't also have to be hauled out of it.
    Perhaps it was that daft BBC David Attenborough thing with the penguins—I'm not wholly immune to the cuteness of penguins but by the end of it I felt I wouldn't care if I never saw another one—maybe it was it, that made the intrepid adventurers of the Akademik Shokalskiy imagine they could get away with it. My lasting impression of that telly saga—apart from the penguins and penguins and penguins—is of those nits in their polar gear bent double with their cameras, while the predicted blizzard howled in over the slope above them. Gee, guys, it wasn't worth it in order to bring the couch potatoes of the world lovely shots of p—Them.
    If you're still with me, dear blog readers, I can prove that the history of polar exploration is one of getting stuck in the ice, and should be a warning to anyone who thinks of going to either the Arctic or Antarctica: the RGSSA has got the books that are the proof. Does anyone take account of the lessons of history these days? ("No!" you cry.) Never mind, here are some notes about just some of those genuine explorers who got stuck in the ice before January 2014.

In search of the sunny Polar Sea in the 1590s
One of the earliest recorded Arctic voyages where the ship was icebound was that of Willem Barentsz in the late 16th century.

Willem Barentsz's ship in the Arctic ice

Veer, Gerrit de.
The three voyages of William Barents to the Arctic regions : 1594, 1595, and 1596. London : Hakluyt Society, 1876. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; no. 54)
Willem Barentsz (or Barents), circa 1550-1597, was a 16th-century Dutch navigator, cartographer and explorer. The Barents Sea, Barentsburg and Barents Region are named after him. Starting off in life as a cartographer, he sailed to Spain and the Mediterranean, compiling an atlas of the Mediterranean region, which he co-published with Petrus Plancius. His career as an Arctic explorer was spent searching for the Northeast Passage to the East: his reasoning was that north of Siberia there must be open water, free of ice, since the sun shone 24 hours a day up there. Don’t laugh—this was pretty good for the time: it was only 50 years since Copernicus's death and Galileo would only have been in this thirties and had not yet done his greatest work. Barentsz made three Arctic voyages in search of the Passage, in the course of which he discovered Bear Island and Spitsbergen, had more than one bloody confrontation with polar bears, and became stuck in the polar ice. A crewmember, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, published an account of the first two voyages.
    During the third voyage, in ships captained by Jan Corneliszoon Rijp and Jacob van Heemskerk under Barentsz's command, Gerrit de Veer, the ship's carpenter, whose account of Barentsz's voyages is held by the RGSSA, was the first person to witness and record the atmospheric anomaly known as the "Novaya Zemlya effect," or "rectangular sun", a polar mirage in which the sun seems to be rising too soon and appears as a line or a square. (See http://www.eh2r.com/mp/data3.html for more information & some extraordinary images.) Barentsz died during this last voyage.
    Some of the RGSSA's rare early publications also contain material on Barentsz, notably:

Bry, Johann Theodor de, 1561-1623?
Indiae Orientalis pars undecima ... Nunc primum latio donata, atq; elegantissime in aes incisis imaginibus illustrata. Sumptibus atq; opera Johannis Theodori de Bry civis ac Bibliopole Oppenhemensis. Oppenhemii : typis Hieronymi Galleri, 1691.
This early classic set of voyages contains 3 works. It is the third item, Descriptio regionis Spitzbergae, which is concerned with Barentsz; it is: "A geographical description of Spitzbergen and a refutation of the claims of the English to the northern whale fisheries, with the journal of the voyage of Willem Barentsz and Jan Corneliszoon Rijp in 1596."

Northwest Passage and English obsession
Northwest Passage routes, based on a NASA photograph
By the end of the 18th century, in the wake of the voyages of Cook and Vancouver, British interest in the polar regions had awakened. The earlier part of the 19th century saw a huge explosion in British polar exploration, more especially in the Arctic. They became obsessed with finding the Northwest Passage. The original impulse was the cash nexus: the passage would be a faster way to the riches of India and the Far East than sailing round Africa. As the Pacific began to be properly explored in the late 18th century, the fabled Passage also offered a tempting faster way to the Pacific itself, rather than the risky and terrifying voyage round Cape Horn. At least, that's pretty much the official line. But once you start looking at account after account of yet another British expedition—usually Royal Navy vessels—setting off for the far north, you can't help but realise that after a while these efforts had little or nothing to do with trade. This was an obsession in full flower.

Parry: early successes in spite of the ice
William Parry must have been an extraordinary man. He was most certainly an able navigator, and an excellent expedition leader. The RGSSA has catalogued 4 of his books of Arctic exploration, published from 1821 to 1828, covering his voyages which began in 1819. The context? At home they were wearing high-waisted muslin dresses and reading Jane Austen's Persuasion, just published the year before. Can you imagine what it must have been like, setting off for the frozen polar wastes in a small wooden sailing ship in 1819? Look how the ice dwarfs her!
Parry's ship Hecla in Baffin Bay, on his 1819-1820 expedition:
foreground, a small boat desperately pulls her away from the giant iceberg
Parry, William Edward, Sir, 1790-1855.
Journal of a voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific : performed in the years 1819-20, in His Majesty's ships Hecla and Griper, under the orders of William Edward Parry. London : John Murray, 1821
One of the most successful of all the searches for a Northwest Passage was one of the earliest. On the first voyage under his command Parry sailed straight through Lancaster Sound, with his two ships, Hecla and Griper, and reached Melville Island. It would be more than 30 years before another ship would get that far. Being the first ship to cross the 110° longitude line won him a £5000 reward offered by the Board of Longitude. Hecla and Griper were the first British ships to winter over in the Arctic, when they were frozen in at Winter Harbour, Melville Island. Many of the landmarks of the Arctic region whose names we see today were named by Parry on this first amazing voyage: Melville Island, Barrow Strait, Beechey Island.

Parry, William Edward, Sir, 1790-1855.
Journal of a second voyage for the discovery of a north-west passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific : performed in the years 1821-22-23 in His Majesty's ships Fury and Hecla, under the orders of Captain William Edward Parry. London : John Murray, 1824
This second attempt to find the Northwest Passage was made through Foxe Channel and Frozen Strait, north of Hudson Bay, but it did not succeed in finding a way west. This time Parry's ships, Fury and Hecla, were frozen in for two years. His narrative is remarkable for detailed observation of the Inuit—the “Esquimaux,” as they called them. It was another first for Parry. The accompanying illustrations by George Lyon, commanding Hecla, help to flesh out this early contribution to the anthropology of the Arctic.

Parry, William Edward, Sir, 1790-1855.
Journal of a third voyage for the discovery of a North-West passage : from the Atlantic to the Pacific : performed in the years 1824-25, in His Majesty's ships Hecla and Fury. London : John Murray, 1826.
On his third trip, again with Hecla and Fury, Parry again went through Lancaster Sound, following the route of his first voyage, and then turned south through Prince Regent's Inlet. However, the going was almost immediately blocked by pack ice. They spent a winter at Port Bowen on the eastern shore. They tried to struggle on the next year, but lost Fury to the ice on a beach on Somerset Island, on the western side of the Inlet: Fury Beach. The ship had to be abandoned and the two crews got home in Hecla.
    Parry, however, was not discouraged, and his fourth Arctic voyage, of 1827, is chronicled in his Narrative of an attempt to reach the North Pole : in boats fitted for the purpose and attached to His Majesty's ship Hecla in the year MDCCCXXVII. (London :John Murray, 1828). This time Parry decided to head north over the Pole. The heavy pack ice had prevented earlier attempts from getting further than Spitsbergen. Rather than risk getting another ship irretrievably stuck in the polar ice, Parry decided to use 2 sledge-boats, which he named Enterprise and Endeavour. They were small enough for the explorers to tow them over the ice on runners, but seaworthy enough for the open sea. Hecla made it to Walden Island, north of Spitsbergen, and the party carried on with the sledge-boats. In spite of the very hard going in the face of the southerly flow of the ice floes they got as far north as Latitude 82°45’, a record that was not broken for nearly 50 years. The cold defeated them and they turned back. They had, however, ruled out the existence of a way to the North Pole from the eastern side of Greenland.

Beechey, a practical man from a family of artists
Good judgment, good seamanship or just good luck? Beechey's ship HMS Blossom (what a lovely name for an Arctic explorer's ship!) became icebound in 1826, but he providently had loaded a small schooner aboard (which he called a "barge") and was able to use it to keep pushing ahead. It was seaworthy, could sail in close to the shore, having little draught, and at need could be towed across the ice.

Braving the ice: Beechey's "barge"

Peard, George, 1783-1837.
To the Pacific and Arctic with Beechey : the journal of Lieutenant George Peard of H.M.S. Blossom, 1825-1828.
Cambridge : Published for the Hakluyt Society at the University Press, 1973. (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society ; Second series, no. 143)
Frederick William Beechey (1796-1856), whose father and brother were artists, was already an experienced Arctic explorer when in 1825 he was given command of HMS Blossom to explore the Arctic, approaching through the Bering Strait, and then meeting up with John Franklin. In July 1826 Beechey reached Kotzebue Sound, their meeting point, but Franklin was not there. Beechey continued on, passing Icy Cape, the furthest point reached by Captain Cook. With Blossom blocked by ice, Beechey's barge was able to reach a major headland, which he later named Point Barrow: the northernmost point on the American continent west of Boothia. There was no sign of Franklin, however, and so they turned back. Beechey's own account, Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Berings Strait to Co-operate with the Polar Expeditions, 1825-1828, appeared in 1831.

Icebound and lost forever
The name "Sir John Franklin" has become synonymous with British Arctic exploration of the first half of the 19th century—not because of his success but because of the disaster of his vanishing complete with ships and men. Years later a few remains were found, but it's a very long story and I shan't go into it now.
    Franklin led several polar expeditions: the RGSSA holds his Narrative of a journey to the shores of the Polar Sea in the years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823) and his Narrative of a second expedition to the shores of the polar sea, in the years 1825, 1826, and 1827 (London: John Murray, 1828).
    He seems to have been the sort of naval officer, only too common at the time, who could not see his crew as fellow human beings. The 1819-1822 venture was an overland expedition to explore the northern coast of Canada east from the mouth of the Coppermine River. The party explored some 320K of coastline, but Franklin fatally delayed the return journey until the food supply was exhausted, and 11 men died of starvation or suicide, having been reduced to eating lichen. It is known that Franklin and his fellow officers did not help the men to carry supplies or hunt for game. Lowering oneself in such a way might have been considered unworthy of a commissioned officer, but under these conditions it frequently led to disaster.
    On his second venture Franklin was better prepared, with several special ocean-going small boats. They went along the Mackenzie River to the northern coast, where they split into 2 parties, one party heading east, and Franklin going westwards in 2 boats, Lion and Reliance, hoping to meet up with Beechey at Kotzebue Sound (see above). Franklin, however, ran into heavy ice and could not get through it to the rendezvous.

Franklin's small boats, Lion & Reliance, in the ice
This venture was much more successful than the previous one: they mapped over 1200 miles of Arctic coastline, leaving only two strips left unsurveyed.
    Franklin's was a varied career: from 1836 to 1843 he was lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). But by 1845 he was in the Arctic again, in command of an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. The expedition ships, Erebus and Terror, with 138 officers and men, were last seen by a whaling vessel on July 26, 1845, in Baffin Bay. The ice had won.

Gone but not forgotten
After Franklin's expedition in search of the Northwest Passage disappeared completely somewhere in the frozen north, the British obsession with the Passage got worse, not better. True, his widow, Jane, Lady Franklin, campaigned unceasingly for rescue expeditions to be sent out, and the official line is that her efforts worked. Well, yes, to some extent, no doubt: but personally, my mind boggles at the idea of the Lords of the Admiralty taking much notice of any female, however wellborn and well connected. No. By this time, it had become an idée fixe, and the British authorities had too much invested in the notion, both materially and psychologically, to let it go. Besides, what if some dashed foreigner found the Passage first?
    You don’t believe me? Assimilate this: the RGSSA Library holds 21 contemporary accounts of voyages in search of Franklin—and remember, the collection is still only half catalogued!

The men who went in search of Franklin pretty well composed a litany of the good, the bad and the very ugly—a real cross-section of the naval officers of the era. Good or bad, however, they were still at the mercy of the polar ice. The ways in which they dealt with it say quite a lot about their characters.

Stuck in the ice—but yes! There is a Northwest Passage!

"Critical position of H.M.S. Investigator. On the North Coast of Bering Island,
August 20 1851" by Samuel Gurney Cresswell
It was Robert McClure who discovered the seaway between the furthest reaches of the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in far north Canada, as documented in his book, first published in 1856 and rapidly republished the next year:

McClure, Robert John Le Mesurier, Sir, 1807-1873
The discovery of the North-west Passage by H.M.S. "Investigator", Capt. R. M'Clure, 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854. London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, and Roberts, 1856
McClure's arduous journey was made by sledge over the pack ice as well as by ship. It would be another 55 years before a navigator, Roald Amundsen, would sail the Northwest Passage.
    This expedition is represented in some of the most iconic pictures of Arctic exploration, in:

Cresswell, Samuel Gurney, 1827-1867
A series of eight sketches in colour (together with a chart of the route), by Lieut. S. Gurney Cresswell, of the voyage of H.M.S. Investigator (Captain M'Clure), during the discovery of the North-West Passage. London : Day and Son, 1854
McClure (sometimes M'Clure) was a very able navigator, and, unlike far too many ships' captains of the time, a kindly and caring man. He had gone into the Royal Navy at 17, in 1824, and his first voyage to the Arctic, in 1836, was as mate on Terror under the command of George Back. It was his first experience of being stuck in the ice: the ship became icebound and damaged, but eventually limped back to Britain. In 1848 McClure again headed for the polar regions, as First Lieutenant on Enterprise, one of the ships of the first expedition to find John Franklin, under Sir John Ross.
    1850 saw the launch of a new expedition in search of Franklin, under the command of Richard Collinson, on Enterprise. McClure was captaining the second ship, Investigator. They sailed south together to Cape Horn and reached the Pacific, but became separated and lost touch completely. McClure continued with the mission, taking Investigator all the way north to the Bering Strait and along the coast of Alaska. He was the first European to land on Banks Island in the far north of Canada; from there he sailed north, naming the strait between Banks Island and Victoria Island the Prince of Wales Strait.
    Winter closed in and Investigator became stuck in the ice. McClure's sledging parties, however, went eastwards from the Prince of Wales Strait to Viscount Melville Sound, confirming that this was the seaway to the east. This was significant, for at its eastern end the sound connects via Barrow Strait with Baffin Bay, which is an arm of the North Atlantic Ocean. McClure's expedition had thus found the complete Northwest Passage, though the pack ice prevented them from sailing all the way.
    When the ice broke up in the spring of 1852 they were forced back to the west by the ice floes. Under continual threat from the giant icebergs breaking free of the polar ice pack, McClure sheltered in an inlet which he named Mercy Bay. Winter was not so merciful, however, and they were iced in again, with rations growing dangerously short. "McClure made elaborate plans for evacuating the less healthy members [of his crew] who would be unlikely to stand the rigours of a third winter. He had always shown a great concern for their health, delighted in their amusements during the long hours of winter inactivity, and won their respect and affection." (Baker, J. N. L. "McClure, Sir Robert John Le Mesurier", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=5136 )
    In March 1853, however, they were rescued by a sledge party from HMS Resolute, under the command of Henry Kellett, who had read the message that McClure had left at Winter Harbour, on Melville Island. Captain Kellett's ship was part of another Royal Naval expedition under Sir Edward Belcher (see further below). The party sledged back in 1854 to Beechey Island, where they joined a supply ship from Belcher's Arctic Squadron and sailed home with the remains of Belcher's expedition.

Captain Belcher was not a good man, he had his little ways...
Belcher's decision to abandon his ship, HMS Assistance, became infamous.

"H.M.S. Assistance blown out of Winter Quarters, October 1853"
Edward Belcher's naval career had several notable high points, but not a few low ones. He was a proud man whose inflated idea of his own abilities meant that he refused to listen to advice when he should have. He was known for his harshness in command: he seems to have had a cruel streak. By the time he set off for his last Arctic voyage he had already been arraigned twice for cruelty to his crew, and he certainly treated his wife very badly. They had only been married for 3 years when she left him in 1833, on the grounds that he had given her two doses of VD. A long legal battle ensued, which Belcher is said to have spitefully prolonged.
    The ways of the Royal Navy being what they were, Belcher was never kicked out for his maltreatment of his men. He was variously punished and exonerated, and actually given a knighthood in 1843, having distinguished himself in the battles at Canton, China, which resulted in the ceding of Hong Kong to Britain.
    In 1852 Belcher was put in charge of an expedition of five ships to search for traces of Franklin. Belcher's Arctic Squadron was to become known for its failures.

Belcher, Edward, Sir, 1799-1877
The last of the Arctic voyages : being a narrative of the expedition in H.M.S. Assistance under the command of Captain Sir Edward Belcher, C.B., in search of Sir John Franklin, during the years 1852-53-54. London : Lovell Reeve, 1855
The geography of these Arctic voyages is really hard to follow—especially since a large part of the time the mariners weren't contending with geographical features, they were contending with the ice! So, as I have spent hours puzzling over the maps, I'll just say here that Belcher sailed into Arctic waters from the east, heading in from the direction of Baffin Bay via Lancaster Sound and Barrow Strait, and established a base on the small Beechey Island in far north Canada, just off the southwest corner of Devon Island. You can see its position on the map below:

Wintering over in the Arctic during 1853, Assistance and her steam tender, HMS Pioneer, were frozen in by September of that year. Efforts were made to free them by blasting the ice with gunpowder, but without success. On 25 August 1854 Belcher abandoned Assistance in the ice off Bathurst Island. He then ordered the abandonment of all the expedition ships to the ice, ignoring the strong objections of Captain Kellett of Resolute. All crews were ordered back to the transport ships at Beechey Island. From there they eventually got home.
    This disaster—like some others!—was far from entirely the fault of the treacherous polar conditions. Pride usually comes before a fall, and this is a prime example. "Belcher must take part of the blame ..., for he refused to take the advice of skilled Arctic navigators ... and as a result blundered into the heaviest ice." (Stuart-Stubbs, Basil. "Belcher, Sir Edward," Dictionary of Canadian Biography online. http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?id_nbr=4819 )
    Back in England Belcher once again had to face a court martial: this time for abandoning his ships. He was acquitted when he showed that his orders had given him complete discretion during the expedition. Nevertheless his reputation as a seaman and expedition leader was irretrievably damaged. Thinking of his poor wife, I can't say I'm sorry.

Using and beating the ice: Scandinavian strategists
By the end of the 19th century we are in the era of well-prepared, seasoned Scandinavian polar exploration. These explorers knew they were at the mercy of the ice, but they also knew how to deal with it.

Stuck in the ice as a strategy: Nansen's Fram, 1893-1896
Nansen, Fridtjof, 1861-1930.
Farthest north, being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship Fram, 1893-96, and of a fifteen months' sleigh journey by Dr. Nansen and Lieut. Johansen. London : Newnes, 1898
The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen had decided to try to reach the North Pole by using the east-west current of the Arctic Ocean. Other polar explorers scoffed at the notion: nevertheless Nansen took his ship Fram to the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Arctic Ocean and froze her into the pack ice, waiting for the drift to carry her towards the Pole.

Fram in the ice, March 1894
After 18 months nothing much had happened: Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen left the ship with a team of dogs and sledges and made for the Pole on foot. They didn't reach it, but they achieved the record "Farthest North" latitude, 86°13.6'N. They then retreated safely to Franz Josef Land in north-western Russia.
    The experiment was not a total failure. The good ship Fram was moving, but very slowly. She continued drifting westwards, finally emerging in the North Atlantic Ocean. Nansen would retire from exploration after this, concentrating on the study of oceanography, then a new science. His scientific observations during the Fram Expedition made a significant contribution to the discipline, proving "conclusively that there were no significant land masses between the Eurasian continents and the North Pole." The concept of a vast polar sea of course dates back at least as far as Barentsz—though by the 19th century explorers no longer expected it to be ice-free under the influence of the midnight sun. This, however, was scientific proof.
    Nansen was an extremely intelligent man who did his research and worked out his strategies in advance. You can read his determination and intelligence in his face, in this striking photo from the collection of the U.S. Library of Congress:

Unlike some, he also had a thorough knowledge of Arctic conditions, and "the methods of travel and survival he developed with Johansen influenced all the polar expeditions, north and south, which followed in the subsequent three decades." ("Nansen's 'Fram' expedition", Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nansen%27s_Fram_expedition )

Icebound but not abandoned: Amundsen's success
Amundsen's Gjøa safe at Nome, Alaska, 31 August 1906
Amundsen, Roald, 1872-1928.
Roald Amundsen's "The North West passage" : being the record of a voyage of exploration of the ship "Gjöa" 1903-1907. London : Constable, 1908
The famous Norwegian polar explorer Roald Amundsen had already had a lot of Arctic experience well before he reached the South Pole on 14 December 1911. He also located the North Magnetic Pole and navigated the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, the first successful voyage right through the Passage. It was during his voyage in the Gjøa, when he spent two winters at King William Island in the Canadian Arctic calculating the exact position of the North Magnetic Pole, that he became icebound:
    "By late September [1903] Gjøa was west of the Boothia Peninsula and began to encounter worsening weather and sea ice. Amundsen put her into a natural harbour on the south shore of King William Island; by October 3 she was iced in. There she remained for nearly two years, with her crew undertaking sledge journeys to make measurements ... and learning from the local Inuit people." ("Gjøa", Wikipedia)
   Amundsen travelled 800 km overland to the telegraph at Fort Eagle, Alaska, to announce success. He then went all the way back to the Gjøa, rescued her, and sailed her all the way to San Francisco. He had timed it right: his experience of polar conditions had allowed him to triumph over the murderous grip of the ice. It would be a large contributing factor in his beating the British expedition under Scott to the South Pole.

Icebound in the South
You can be an experienced polar explorer but still be caught by the ice—as Shackleton's second expedition to Antarctica more than proved.
Shackleton's Endurance stuck in the Antarctic ice
Shackleton, Ernest Henry, Sir, 1874-1922
The heart of the Antarctic : being the story of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909. London : W. Heinemann, 1909

Shackleton, Ernest Henry, Sir, 1874-1922
South : the story of Shackleton's last expedition 1914-17. London : Century, 1991
Shackleton was one of the most famous British Antarctic explorers of the early 20th century. In 1907 he commanded the first official British attempt to reach the South Pole, the British Antarctic Expedition. He broke the record, reaching Latitude 88°23'S in early 1909, but had to turn back when he ran out of supplies. During this expedition his party also achieved a climb of Mount Erebus. Shackleton was knighted on his return.
    His next expedition, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-1917) was an attempt to make the first land crossing of Antarctica, from the Weddell Sea (off the South Atlantic) to the Ross Sea (off the South Pacific). Before the explorers could reach the coast their ship, Endurance, became stuck in the pack ice. After ten months the ship broke up and sank, and the crew drifted in an open boat for another five months before reaching Elephant Island, north of the Antarctic Peninsula. A small group rowed some 1,600K to South Georgia, where Shackleton was able to summon help.

Images of Endurance in the ice are some of the best known in the history of Antarctic exploration. But they don’t seem to have suggested that, even if it's now a hundred years on, no-one is invulnerable, do they?

Endurance sinks, crushed by the ice