Cleveland Comhrá: The Wreck of the Endurance

Picture of Bob Carney
Cleveland Comhrá: Endurance
By Bob Carney

Fortitudine Vincimus
By Endurance We Conquer

Earlier this year, March 5, 2022, a team of researchers discovered the wreck of The Endurance, 9,842 feet below the surface of the Wendell Sea, in the Southern Ocean, east of the Antarctic Peninsula. Although the story of The Endurance was well documented by it’s crew, the exact location of the ship was a mystery until scientists, who were privately funded in the ten million dollar project by an anonymous individual, used hi-tech submersibles to locate and photographed the ship.

The team travelled aboard the S.A. Agulhas, a South African icebreaker and research ship, and searched a one-hundred and fifty square mile area. The extreme Antartic temperatures have kept the 144ft, three masted ship in excellent condition, despite being almost two miles below the surface for over one-hundred years. The conditions are also responsible for the difficulty in locating the wreck.

Images taken by the cameras aboard the submersibles clearly show the capitol letters of the ship’s name visible above the stern.

Ernest Shackleton
Ernest Henry Shackleton was born Feb.15,1874 to Henry and Henrietta Shackleton in Kilkea, Co. Kildare Ireland. Henry was a landowner and worked as a farmer in Kilkea, just thirty miles from Dublin. Ernest was the only boy and was doted on by his sisters, who would eventually number eight. They listened to his stories and encouraged him to tell more. Later, his sister Kathleen would say the young boy “ruled the roost,” a trait that continued his entire life.

By 1880, agriculture in Ireland was facing an economic depression; Henry made the decision to sell the farm and move the family to Dublin, where he took up medicine at Trinity College Dublin. When his studies were completed,they moved to London, where Henry set up a practice in Croyden. Six months later, he found a better opporunity for his practice in Sydeham, and moved the family there.

Now aged ten, the young Shackleton was used to being the center of attention. That all changed when he started school at Fir Lodge Preparatory School in Dulwich.

There he was an outcast and teased about his Irish roots and accent; he was given the nickname “Mick,” and often responded to the teasing and taunts with his fists. One classmate recalled,” If there was a scrap he was usually in it.”

I am an Irishman

Ernest Shackelton
Ernest Shackelton

Eventually he lost his brogue; although the nickname stuck with him the rest of his life, he adopted it as his own, taking away some of the ammunition of his antagonists. He even signed his letters in his later years, Mickey. Shackleton, with lifelong pride always told others, “I am an Irishman.”

At thirteen he attended Dulwich College. Still a bit of an outcast, he disliked team sports and was a poor student. Most of his teachers said he was lazy, doing the minimum of what was required. His only real interest was literature.

His father encouraged all his children to read poetry and Ernest was an avid admirer of Tennyson and could quote the poet verse after verse. He also enjoyed fictional tales of heroism by authors such as Rider Haggard and Jules Verne.

Ernest loved reading about the true-life adventures that happened in the farthest corners of the British Empire. These explorers and adventurers became heroes to the young man. Tales of exploration on the seas held the greatest interest to him. He gathered a group of friends who he would regale with the stories and many of them would skip school just to listen to Ernest’s retelling of the adventures.

When it was almost time to leave school, Shackleton announced to his family that he was ready to explore the world on the ocean. His father was not pleased with the decision; the family could not afford to send him to the Royal Navy and Henry had hoped his only son would follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.

Henry also knew how determined his son could be, and thought if his apprenticeship was a difficult one, it might change his son’s mind. With help from a family member, Henry found his son a berth on board the Houghton Tower, a three masted cargo sailing ship.

Shackleton’s last three months at school saw a drastic change in his studies, especially in mathematics, since it was the basis of navigation. In April of 1890, he made his way to Liverpool and joined the crew of the Houghton Tower at the age of sixteen.

The ship was operated by the North Western Shipping Co. and for the next four years, Ernest learned his trade. In August of 1894, he passed the exam for second mate and became third officer on a steamer. Two years later, he passed the exam for first mate and in 1898, he became certified as a master mariner, qualifying him to command a British ship anywhere in the world.

Heroic Age of Antartic Exploration
The late 1800s and early 1900s are known as the Heroic Age of Antartic Exploration and Shackleton had worked hard to become a part of it. He became third officer on Capt. Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition of 1901-1904, but was sent home early for health reasons. During the Nimrod Expedition of 1907-1909, Shackleton and three of his crew set a new record for Furthest South Latitude, 97 miles from the South Pole.

The race to the pole ended when Roald Amundsen and his team reached it on December 14, 1911. Disappointed, Shackelton turned his attention to a new goal, to be the first to cross Antartica from sea to sea. He started preparations for the Imperial Trans-Antartica Expedition 1914-1917.

Shackleton purchased a ship, The Polaris; it was purpose built for a business venture, taking polar bear hunting parties to the Artic, but the business never saw fruition. When Shackleton acquired it, he rechristened it the Endurance, after the Shackleton family motto “Fortudine Vincimus”. A name that would prove prophetic.

On the 8th of August, 1914, The Endurance sailed from Plymouth to Buenos Aires. From Buenos Aries, the Endurance made for South Georgia Island. Arriving on November 5, they were welcomed by the Norwegian whalers who manned the Grytvike Whaling Station during the summer months, a community of two thousand.

Shackleton had planned on staying for a couple of days, but the whalers warned him that the ice was bad that year and as the days turned into weeks, the Endurance finally set sail on the 5th of December. Three days later, they came upon their first ice pack;, they were a thousand miles away from their intended landing spot. The ship and crew battled through the ice, coming to within sixty miles of their destination before becoming trapped in the ice pack.

Shackleton and the crew resigned themselves to spending the winter on the ice, hoping to resume their journey in the spring, when the ice would break up. For now they were at the mercy of the ice and currents in perhaps the most inhospitable place on earth.

Next Month: On the Ice

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