Nimrod Expedition

 Three men in heavy clothing stand in line on an icy surface, next to a flagstaff from which flies the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Jameson Adams, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall (from left to right) plant the Union Jack at their southernmost position, 88° 23', on 9 January 1909. The photograph was taken by expedition leader Ernest Shackleton.

The British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09, otherwise known as the Nimrod Expedition, was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton. Its main target, among a range of geographical and scientific objectives, was to be first to the South Pole. This was not attained, but the expedition's southern march reached a Farthest South latitude of 88° 23' S, just 97.5 nautical miles (180.6 km; 112.2 mi) from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole.[1] A separate group led by Welsh Australian geology professor Edgeworth David reached the estimated location of the South Magnetic Pole, and the expedition also achieved the first ascent of Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second highest volcano.

The expedition lacked governmental or institutional support, and relied on private loans and individual contributions. It was beset by financial problems and its preparations were hurried. Its ship, Nimrod, was less than half of the size of Robert Falcon Scott's 1901–04 expedition ship Discovery, and Shackleton's crew lacked relevant experience. Controversy arose from Shackleton's decision to base the expedition in McMurdo Sound, close to Scott's old headquarters, in contravention of a promise to Scott that he would not do so. Nevertheless, although the expedition's profile was initially much lower than that of Scott's six years earlier, its achievements attracted nationwide interest and made a public hero out of Shackleton. The scientific team, which included the future Australasian Antarctic Expedition leader Douglas Mawson, carried out extensive geological, zoological and meteorological work. Shackleton's transport arrangements, based on Manchurian ponies, motor traction, and sled dogs, were innovations which, despite limited success, were later copied by Scott for his ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition.

On his return, Shackleton overcame the Royal Geographical Society's initial scepticism about his achievements and received many public honours, including a knighthood from King Edward VII. He made little financial gain from the expedition and eventually depended on a government grant to cover its liabilities. Within three years his southernmost record had been surpassed, as first Amundsen and then Scott reached the South Pole. In his own moment of triumph, Amundsen nevertheless observed: "Sir Ernest Shackleton's name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire".[1]


  • Origins 1
  • Preparations 2
    • Initial plans 2.1
    • Nimrod 2.2
    • Fundraising 2.3
    • Personnel 2.4
  • Promise to Scott 3
  • Expedition 4
    • Voyage south 4.1
    • Cape Royds 4.2
      • Establishing the base 4.2.1
      • Ascent of Mount Erebus 4.2.2
      • Winter 1908 4.2.3
    • Southern journey 4.3
      • Outward march 4.3.1
      • Return journey 4.3.2
    • Northern Party 4.4
  • Aftermath 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes and references 7
    • Notes 7.1
    • References 7.2
  • Sources 8
    • Online sources 8.1
  • External links 9


Shackleton had been a junior officer on Scott's first Antarctic expedition in the Discovery. He had been sent home on the relief ship Morning in 1903, after a physical collapse during the expedition's main southern journey.[2] Scott's verdict was that he "ought not to risk further hardships in his present state of health".[2] Shackleton felt this physical failure as a personal stigma,[3] and on his return to England he was determined to prove himself, in the words of Discovery's second-in command Albert Armitage, as "a better man than Scott".[4] He nevertheless declined the opportunity of a swift Antarctic return as chief officer of Discovery's second relief ship Terra Nova, after helping to fit her out; he also helped to equip Uruguay, the ship being prepared for the relief of Otto Nordenskjold’s expedition, stranded in the Weddell Sea.[4] During the next few years, while nursing intermittent hopes of resuming his Antarctic career, he pursued other options, and in 1906 he was working for the industrial magnate Sir William Beardmore as a public relations officer.[5]

According to Roland Huntford, Shackleton's pride had been further wounded by the references to his physical breakdown made in Scott's The Voyage of the Discovery, published in 1905. It then became his personal mission to return to the Antarctic and outperform Scott.[6] He began looking for potential backers for an expedition of his own; his initial plans appear in an unpublished document dated early 1906. These include a cost estimate of £17,000 (updated value £1,570,000) for the entire expedition.[7][8] He received his first promise of financial backing when early in 1907 his employer, Beardmore, offered a £7,000 loan guarantee (updated value £650,000).[8][9] With this in hand, Shackleton felt confident enough to announce his intentions to the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) on 12 February 1907.[10] One reason for Shackleton's sense of urgency was the knowledge that the Polish explorer Henryk Arctowski was planning an expedition, which was announced at the RGS on the same day as Shackleton's. In the event, Arctowski's plans were stillborn.[11]


Initial plans

Shackleton's original unpublished plan envisaged basing himself at the old Frederick Jackson during the Jackson-Harmsworth Arctic expedition of 1894–97. Despite Jackson's confused reports of his ponies' prowess, and contrary to specific advice from Nansen, Norway's renowned polar traveller, Shackleton was impressed enough to take 15 ponies, later scaled down to 10.[13] By the time he announced his plans to the RGS in February 1907 Shackleton had revised his cost estimate to a more realistic £30,000 (updated value £2,770,000).[8][14] However, the response of the RGS to Shackleton's proposals was muted; Shackleton would learn later that the Society was by this time aware of Scott's wish to lead a new expedition and that the Society wished to reserve its full approval for Scott.[14]


 A three-masted ship with sails furled, short funnel amidships, flag flying from the stern on left of picture. Two small boats are close by, and a larger vessel decked with bunting is visible in the background.
The expedition's ship Nimrod departing for the South Pole

Shackleton intended to arrive in Antarctica with Douglas Mawson in January 1908, which meant leaving England during the 1907 summer. He therefore had six months to secure the financing, acquire and fit out a ship, buy all the equipment and supplies, and recruit the personnel. In April, believing that he had got the backing of Scottish businessman Donald Steuart,[15] Shackleton travelled to Norway intending to buy a 700-ton polar vessel, Bjorn, that would have served ideally as an expedition ship. When Steuart withdrew his support, however, Bjorn was beyond Shackleton's means. Bjorn was eventually acquired by German explorer Wilhelm Filchner and, renamed Deutschland, was used in his 1911–13 voyage to the Weddell Sea.[16] Shackleton had to settle for the elderly, much smaller Nimrod, a 40-year-old wooden sealer of 334 gross register tons,[3] which he was able to acquire for £5,000 (updated value £462,000).[8][17][18]

Shackleton was shocked by his first sight of Nimrod after her arrival in London from Newfoundland in June 1907. "She was much dilapidated and smelt strongly of seal oil, and an inspection [...] showed that she needed caulking and that her masts would have to be renewed." However, in the hands of experienced ship-fitters she soon "assumed a more satisfactory appearance." Later, Shackleton reported, he became extremely proud of the sturdy little ship.[19]


By early July 1907 Shackleton had secured little financial support beyond Beardmore's guarantee and was lacking the funds to complete the refit of the ship.[20] In mid-July he approached the philanthropic Earl of Iveagh, otherwise known as Edward Guinness, head of the Anglo-Irish brewing family, who agreed to guarantee the sum of £2,000 (updated value £180,000) provided that Shackleton found other backers to contribute a further £6,000. Shackleton was able to do this, the extra funds including £2,000 from Sir Philip Brocklehurst, who paid this sum to secure a place on the expedition.[21]

A last-minute gift of £4,000 from Shackleton's cousin William Bell[22] still left the expedition far short of the required £30,000, but enabled Nimrod's refit to be finished. Fundraising continued in Australia after the ship arrived there; a further £5,000 was provided as a gift from the Government of Australia, and the New Zealand Government gave £1,000.[23] By these means, and with other smaller loans and donations, the £30,000 was raised, although by the end of the expedition total costs had risen, by Shackleton's estimate, to £45,000.[4]

Shackleton expected to make large sums from his book about the expedition and from lectures. He also hoped to profit from sales of special postage stamps bearing the cancellation stamp of the Antarctica post office that Shackleton, appointed temporary postmaster by the New Zealand government, intended to establish there. None of these schemes produced the anticipated riches, although the post office was set up at Cape Royds and used as a conduit for the expedition's mail.[24][25][5]


 Man, probably mid-forties, dark hair, clean shaven, wearing a high collar with tie, looking straight ahead. He is holding an open book
Prof. Edgeworth David, who headed the scientific team

Shackleton hoped to recruit a strong contingent from the Discovery Expedition and offered his former comrade

  • British Antarctic Expedition 1907–1909 at the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust
  • Nimrod, Crew and Personnel List at Cool Antarctica
  • The Nimrod expedition, 1907–1909 at the Glasgow Digital Library
  • Shackleton hut to be resurrected at BBC News
  • Whisky on ice takes on new meaning, One News, TVNZ, 21 July 2010. Report on conservations efforts on a crate of whisky from Shackleton's hut.

External links

  • "Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to Present". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  • "Explorers' century-old whisky found in Antarctic". USA Today. 5 February 2010. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  • Katz, Gregory (18 January 2011). "Explorer's century-old scotch returns from Antarctica". Toronto Star. Associated Press. Retrieved 14 October 2011. 
  • "Whisky buried by Ernest Shackleton expedition recreated". BBC News. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2012. 

Online sources

  • Crane, David (2005). Scott of the Antarctic. London: Harper Collins.  
  • Fisher, Margery and James (1957). Shackleton. London: James Barrie Books. 
  • Mills, Leif (1999). Frank Wild. Whitby: Caedmon of Whitby.  
  • Paine, Lincoln (2000). Ships of Discovery and Exploration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  
  • Preston, Diana (1997). A First Rate Tragedy: Captain Scott's Antarctic Expeditions. London: Constable & Co.  
  • Speak, Peter (2003). William Speirs Bruce: Polar Explorer and Scottish Nationalist. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland.  


  1. ^ Amundsen, Vol. II, p. 115.
  2. ^ Preston, p. 68.
  3. ^ Huntford, p. 117.
  4. ^ a b Huntford, pp. 120–121.
  5. ^ Fisher, p. 99.
  6. ^ Huntford, p. 145.
  7. ^ Fisher, p. 103.
  8. ^ a b c d Measuring Worth.
  9. ^ Huntford, p. 156.
  10. ^ a b Shackleton, pp. 2–3.
  11. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 108–110.
  12. ^ Fisher, p. 102.
  13. ^ Huntford, pp. 171–172.
  14. ^ a b Huntford, pp. 158–161.
  15. ^ Huntford, pp. 156–157.
  16. ^ Huntford, p. 339.
  17. ^ Shackleton, pp. 5–11.
  18. ^ Huntford, p. 175.
  19. ^ Shackleton, p. 11.
  20. ^ Huntford, pp. 178–179.
  21. ^ Huntford, p. 179.
  22. ^ Huntford, p. 183.
  23. ^ a b c d Riffenburgh, pp. 138–141.
  24. ^ Huntford, p. 312.
  25. ^ Fisher, p. 128.
  26. ^ a b Riffenburgh, pp. 109–111.
  27. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 125–126.
  28. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 133.
  29. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 123–125.
  30. ^ Shackleton, pp. 17–18.
  31. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 134 and 303.
  32. ^ Fisher, p. 121.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h Riffenburgh, pp. 110–116.
  34. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 292–293.
  35. ^ Shackleton, p. 20.
  36. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 148.
  37. ^ a b Riffenburgh, pp. 144–145.
  38. ^ Fisher, pp. 32–33.
  39. ^ a b Riffenburgh, pp. 151–153.
  40. ^ Shackleton, pp. 52–53.
  41. ^ Shackleton, pp. 52–56.
  42. ^ a b Riffenburgh, pp. 161–167.
  43. ^ Riffenburgh, pp. 170–171.
  44. ^ a b c d e Riffenburgh, pp. 171–177.
  45. ^ Shackleton, pp. 81–91.