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13 Facts About Antarctic Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton

13 Facts About Antarctic Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton

Antarctica … harsh, unforgiving and breath-takingly beautiful. These days we can visit Antarctica in comfort and luxury, but what of the intrepid explorers who were first to set foot on the white continent? Without our technology depicting weather patterns, communications and more, braving – and surviving – Antarctica is quite simply mind-boggling.

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s incredible story of survival is hard to imagine. His ship, Endurance, became trapped in ice and subsequently sank, forcing his team of 27 men to live on the ice over an Antarctic winter before they could sail to Elephant Island. Shackleton and five men then made a further trek to South Georgia before they could find help. The fact that not one man died and Shackleton managed to keep up the morale of his men during such an ordeal, is a true tribute to his leadership qualities. One can only imagine how overwhelming and daunting it must have been for the men when they realised they were stranded in Antarctica without ship or hope of rescue.

A true pioneer, here are some quick facts about Sir Ernest Shackleton:

  • Sir Ernest Shackleton was born in Ireland, the second of ten children. He later moved to London.
  • Although his father hoped he would follow in his footsteps and become a doctor, Shackleton had other ideas and joined the merchant navy at age 16. He became first mate at 18 and certified master mariner at age 24.
  • Shackleton wanted to be the first to reach the South Pole. He made his first expedition trip at the age of 25, during which he became very ill.
  • During his second attempt, he was just 97 miles short of the South Pole before having to turn back. He and his team mates did, however, establish a new record – farthest south latitude at 88˚South. Members of his team also climbed Mount Erebus.
  • For these achievements, Shackleton was knighted by King Edward VII when he returned home.
  • Before he could make a third attempt, Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, beat him to it and was the first to reach the South Pole on 13 December 1911. Ernest Shackleton then decided to be the first to cross Antarctica, via the South Pole.
  • In 1914, Shackleton set out aboard the ship ‘Endurance.’ However, it became ice-locked and Shackleton and his team had to abandon ship, which subsequently sank.
  • Shackleton and his men lived on the ice for 10 months before the ice began to thaw and they could board small boats and head for Elephant Island. Unfortunately, no one was on Elephant Island so Shackleton led a team of five men to South Georgia.
  • The trek involved crossing 1,300km of open ocean and mountainous terrain, until they were able to organise a rescue for the other 22 men.
  • Despite spending two years on the ice, not one man died.
  • Shackleton married Emily Dorman in 1904 and had three children, the youngest of which, Edward, inherited a touch of his father’s adventurous spirit and became the first westerner to climb Mount Mulu in Borneo.
  • When he was 47, Shackleton made a final Antarctic mission but suffered a fatal heart attack.
  • Shackleton was buried in South Georgia.


Luckily for us, cruising to Antarctica is much more civilised today. Luxury expedition ships, fitted with state-of-the-art technology and ice breaking features, means we can enjoy the beauty of Antarctica and appreciate the bravery of those explorers before us.

You can follow in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton and visit his burial site on voyages to Antarctica.   For more information on these cruises, speak to one of our cruise experts.