Hear Ernest Shackleton Speak About His Antarctic Expedition in a Rare 1909 Recording

What more har­row­ing sto­ry has the his­to­ry of twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry explo­ration pro­duced than that of Ernest Shack­le­ton’s dis­as­trous Impe­r­i­al Trans-Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion of 1914–17? With one of their ships, the appro­pri­ate­ly named Endurance, crushed by pack ice, Shack­le­ton and com­pa­ny had to spend years far out­side civ­i­liza­tion, liv­ing in makeshift camps and ulti­mate­ly using a lifeboat to make the gru­el­ing 800-mile jour­ney to the hope of res­cue. Though the hero­ic efforts of Shack­le­ton and oth­ers ensured no loss of life among the men they led, mak­ing the expe­di­tion at least a suc­cess in sur­vival terms, the famed explor­er had had much bet­ter luck last time.

Shack­le­ton’s British Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion of 1907-09, also known as the Nim­rod Expe­di­tion, took him and his crew near­ly to the South Pole, set­ting a record for the longest south­ern polar expe­di­tion to that date. Or, to describe the achieve­ment in Shack­le­ton’s own words, “We reached a point with­in 97 geo­graph­i­cal miles of the South Pole; the only thing that stopped us from reach­ing the actu­al point was the lack of fifty pounds of food. Anoth­er par­ty reached, for the first time, the South Mag­net­ic Pole; anoth­er par­ty reached the sum­mit of a great active vol­cano, Mount Ere­bus. We made many inter­est­ing geo­log­i­cal and sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies and had many nar­row escapes through­out the whole time.”

You can even hear that account giv­en in Shack­le­ton’s own voice in the video above, which cap­tures the play­back of My South Polar Expe­di­tion, an Edi­son Amberol wax cylin­der record he record­ed in New Zealand just a week after re-enter­ing civ­i­liza­tion. He returned to great acclaim, but also in seri­ous debt, and so putting out a piece of mer­chan­dise like this, and set­ting out on the exten­sive lec­ture tour that fol­lowed, only made good finan­cial sense. But before long, the cel­e­brat­ed Shack­le­ton found him­self at loose ends, becom­ing, in the words of jour­nal­ist and politi­cian Sir Har­ry Brit­tain, “a bit of a float­ing gent,” one who must have felt more than ready to take on a chal­lenge as an ambi­tious Impe­r­i­al Trans-Antarc­tic Expe­di­tion.

As vivid­ly as his­to­ry has remem­bered Shack­le­ton’s Endurance expe­ri­ence, he him­self came home from that sec­ond gru­el­ing voy­age to lit­tle fan­fare. He arrived in Eng­land not just dur­ing the news-dom­i­nat­ing Great War but lat­er than the rest of his crew, hav­ing giv­en anoth­er lec­ture tour in Amer­i­ca first. But this explor­er, it seems, did not live for fan­fare. Despite what hap­pened in his sec­ond Antarc­tic expe­di­tion, he orga­nized a third, the Shack­le­ton-Rowett Expe­di­tion, in 1921, though he died of a heart attack the fol­low­ing year, with the jour­ney still under­way. Shack­le­ton enthu­si­asts, and there are many, can only imag­ine what tales that expe­di­tion would have giv­en their hero to tell — and how they might have sound­ed on the slight­ly high­er-fideli­ty record­ing media devel­oped by the time he’d planned to return.

To hear an audio ver­sion of Shack­le­ton’s har­row­ing 1914–17 voy­age, lis­ten to Endurance: Shack­le­ton’s Incred­i­ble Voy­age, which you can down­load for free if you sign up for Audible.com’s 30-day Free Tri­al pro­gram.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Google Street View Opens Up a Look at Shackleton’s Antarc­tic

A Beau­ti­ful Drone’s Eye View of Antarc­ti­ca

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Nathan Hardy says:

    This is a won­der­ful chap­ter in his­to­ry. Search­ing for sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery in the midst of glob­al polit­i­cal tur­moil is an admirable con­cept. For those inter­est­ed in Shack­le­ton, the band Have Gun Will Trav­el pro­duced an album writ­ten around the failed attempt to cross the bot­tom of the world and ulti­mate hero­ic res­cue of all the crew.

    Sci­ence from an Easy Chair:


  • Tucker says:

    This is such an inter­est­ing sto­ry and being able to hear it in his own voice and words is amaz­ing. Although he sounds almost sus­pi­cious­ly like John Cleese from Mon­ty Python haha­ha.

  • Anne Strathie says:

    Hel­lo, Col­in — this is won­der­ful! Shack­le­ton refers to mak­ing the record­ing on 30 March 1909, which sug­gests he was in New Zealand or Aus­tralia at the time. Do you know which one it is (it relates to some research I’m doing) about his jour­ney back to Britain. Many thanks, Anne

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.