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Famous Freemasons – Sir Ernest Shackleton

Shackleton was an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer, best known for leading the ‘Endurance’ expedition of 1914-16.

Ernest Henry Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874 in County Kildare, Ireland. His father was a doctor. The family moved to where Shackleton was educated. Rejecting his father’s wish that he become a doctor, he joined the merchant navy when he was 16 and qualified as a master mariner in 1898. He travelled widely but was keen to explore the poles.

In 1901, Shackleton was chosen to go on the Antarctic expedition led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott on the ship ‘Discovery’. With Scott and one other, Shackleton trekked towards the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions, getting closer to the Pole than anyone had come before. Shackleton became seriously ill and had to return home but had gained valuable experience.

Back in Britain, Shackleton spent some time as a journalist and was then elected secretary of the Scottish Royal Geographical Society. In 1906, he unsuccessfully stood for parliament in Dundee. In 1908, he returned to the Antarctic as the leader of his own expedition, on the ship ‘Nimrod’. During the expedition, his team climbed Mount Erebus, made many important scientific discoveries and set a record by coming even closer to the South Pole than before. He was knighted on his return to Britain.

In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole, followed by Scott who died on the return journey. In 1914, Shackleton made his third trip to the Antarctic with the ship ‘Endurance’, planning to cross Antarctica via the South Pole. Early in 1915, ‘Endurance’ became trapped in the ice, and ten months later sank. Shackleton’s crew had already abandoned the ship to live on the floating ice. In April 1916, they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island. Taking five crew members, Shackleton went to find help. In a small boat, the six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of ocean to reach South Georgia and then trekked across the island to a whaling station. The remaining men from the ‘Endurance’ were rescued in August 1916. Not one member of the expedition died. ‘South’, Shackleton’s account of the ‘Endurance’ expedition, was published in 1919.

Shackleton’s fourth expedition aimed to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent but on 5 January 1922, Shackleton died of a heart attack off South Georgia. He was buried on the island.