Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton is one of the great figures of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
He was born in Kildare on 15th February 1874, the second eldest of ten children. His family moved to London when he was young and his father hoped his son would follow in his stead and go to medical school. Young Shackleton had other ideas however and at 16 he joined the merchant navy quickly rising through the ranks.
Shackleton is best known for his epic Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard the Endurance with fellow Irishmen Tom Crean and Tim McCarthy. This wasn’t his first trip to the icy south and despite the trials and tribulations of his greatest adventure – it wasn’t his last.
His first adventure to the Antarctic was in 1901 when he joined another big figure of the Heroic Age Robert Falcon Scott on an expedition to the South Pole. Shackleton fell ill on the journey and had to turn back. This didn’t deter him and after a brief stint at a career in journalism he planned to return to the Antarctic on his own adventure.
In 1907 he tried to make it to the South again on the Nimrod Expedition. He came within 97 miles of the pole before being forced to turn back due to the brutal conditions. In 1911 his rival explorer Norwegian Roald Amundsen beat him by becoming the first to reach the South Pole.
He was defeated but he did not give up, his mind was set on glory so he came up with a new challenge to cross the Antarctic from sea to sea via the pole in what became known as the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The story of this journey is one of the greatest tales of adventure and bravery and would forever see Shackleton’s name go down in history as a great explorer and an incredible leader.
Despite the truly epic nature of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition it once again ended in failure. But Shackleton’s persistence still didn’t give up and he made what would be his final voyage to the South Pole in 1921.
This was to be an oceanographic and sub-antarctic expedition on board the Norwegian sealer Quest. Shackleton left England on 24th September 1921. When the ship reached Rio de Janeiro Shackleton suffered a suspected heart attack but refused a proper medical examination and continued on with the voyage.
They arrived to South Georgia on 4th January 1922 and sadly this was as far as Shackleton made it. Early the next day Shackleton suffered a fatal heart attack and died.
The heroic giant of antarctic exploration now lies in his final resting place in Grytviken, South Georgia. In 2011 the ashes of Frank Wild, Shackleton’s right-hand man were were taken from Braamfontein Cemetery, Johannesburg and interred on the right-hand side of Shackleton’s grave.