Top Ten Ernest Shackleton Facts

UPDATED MARCH 2020

Sir Ernest Shackleton was undoubtedly one of the greatest explorers of the 20th Century. His extraordinary tales of adventure and unmeasurable courage have inspired generations of pioneers and his legacy, one of bravery, determination and incomparable endurance in the face of enormous challenges, lives on to this day. Shackleton’s 1914-1916 journey to Antarctica, aboard the ill-fated Endurance, is widely considered to be the most astonishing chapter of the continent’s fascinating history.

Countless stories may have been written about Sir Ernest’s life and adventures, yet perhaps we can still surprise you with a few Ernest Shackleton facts you may not know…

Black and white portrait of Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Shackleton.

Here are our top ten Ernest Shackleton facts:

1. Sir Ernest Shackleton was born in Kildare, Ireland

Born in February 1874, to an English father (originally from Yorkshire) and an Irish mother. When he was 10 years old, the family moved to London. Although his father had high hopes young Ernest would become a doctor, he instead developed a passion for the high seas and joined the navy when he was a wee 16-year-old.

2. Shackleton’s first trip to Antarctica was with another prominent explorer

Shackleton’s first Antarctica expedition was with Robert Falcon Scott – on the ‘Discovery’ Expedition of 1901-1904. Shackleton was sent home on medical grounds (heart problems, reputedly) and didn’t finish the expedition. This didn’t sit well with Scott, who made some pretty scathing remarks about his performance. Mind you, according to the personal and unedited diary found on his body months after he perished in Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf, Scott was rather scathing about, well, everyone he came across.

3. In 1904, Shackleton married Emily Dorman

They had three children together. Interestingly enough, the youngest child, Edward, became the first Westerner to summit Borneo’s Mt Mulu in 1932. In later years, Edward would become the President of the Royal Geographical Society, a prominent Labour politician and earned himself an OBE appointment in 1945.

4. Secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society

Ernest Shackleton worked, for a time, as the secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, in his native Kildare county, as well as a journalist.

5. Shackleton received over 5,000 applicants for his Antarctica expedition

When recruiting for his Antarctic expedition, Shackleton received over 5000 applicants and chose just 26. Among his many requirements (mostly to do with practical abilities) he also quizzed potential sailors on a range of slightly more bizarre skills, such as their ability to hold a tune. Shackleton also recruited 69 dogs for the mission, all of whom were assigned a caretaker from the crew.

6. The Endurance mission set off August 1914

Shackleton’s Endurance mission left at the beginning of August, 1914, one the exact same day that Germany declared war on Russia and just a few days after the outbreak of WWI. Shackleton actually offered his ship, crew and provisions to the British Admiralty to help in the war effort, but they urged him to pursue his quest with a one-word telegram.

Proceed.

7. The sinking of the Endurance, 1915

After sailing southward for months and battling increasingly hostile conditions (and ice floes) for over six weeks, the Endurance eventually became totally entrapped by pack ice on the 18th January, 1915. Shackleton and his crew were trapped for 10 months before having to evacuate a sinking ship. The story of Shackleton’s miraculous escape and survival of all his crew is legendary. We would like to remind you that the man sailed 1300km in nothing more than a glorified rowboat, battled treacherous seas with little navigation equipment, to then climb a mountain range, a few glaciers and then go back with help to rescue 22 of his men stuck on Elephant Island. Whew! (Read that again!)

Endurance ship sinking in pack ice
The final sinking of The Endurance. Photo: Creative Commons

8. Shackleton returned home to enlist

If the extraordinary rescue of his crew wasn’t enough, Shackleton then returned home to enlist for the army – only to be refused based on health grounds – his heart was the reason yet again!

9. Shackleton was a famed public speaker

An avid record keeper, Shackleton was a darling of the speaking circuit and used his well-publicised speeches for more fundraising for expeditions. His book “Endurance” has been sold millions of times worldwide and is a must-read for anyone venturing to Antarctica.

10. Shackleton is buried in Grytvken, South Georgia

Shackleton is buried in Grytviken, South Georgia. He died there in 1921 at the age of 47 when on route to his third Antarctic expedition, this time to circumnavigate the continent.

Shackleton's grave in South Georrgia
Shackleton’s grave in South Georgia. Photo: Shutterstock

Bonus #11:

Sir Ernest Shackleton may have never reached the South Pole but one of his descendants has. Navy Commander Scott Shackleton, a distant relative of the legendary explorer, set foot on the South Pole on the 9th February, 2010, finally realising a family dream. He considered it an absolute honour and stated that the only reason he couldn’t shed a tear was because, at -50C, it would freeze in his eyeball. True story.

Inspired? Follow in the footsteps of the most revered explorer in Antarctica’s history aboard one of Chimu Adventures’ Shackleton Antarctica Voyages! Or go on one of the many other cruises to Antarctica which include the remote and spellbinding island of South Georgia.

Photo credit header image: The Royal Geographical Society.

Author: Greg Carter

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