The Nimrod Expedition


After accompanying Scott on the National Antarctic Expedition aboard the Discovery, Ernest Shackleton was to make his own attempt to reach the South Pole. The expedition left Britain in 1907, on the ship the Nimrod. Accompanying him was Douglas Mawson, who would become the first man to reach the southern magnetic pole.

They disembarked the Nimrod on 3rd February 1908, and set up a base at Cape Royds. The party began carrying out scientific studies and observations. Six of the men became the first to scale Mount Erebus. They lived on Antarctica throughout the winter. With the arrival of spring, Shackleton began preparations for his journey to the South Pole.

The Nimrod Expedition was the first to take the new invention, the motorcar, to the Antarctic continent. Ironically, the motorcar continually broke down from overheating, so was not a viable means of transport to the pole.

The Beardmore Glacier

The Beardmore Glacier, discovered by Shackleton's southern party on 3 December 1908

Inside the Cape Royds Hut

Inside the Cape Royds Hut, winter 1908. Included in the picture are Shackleton (left background), Adams (smoking curved pipe), Wild (working on the sledge) and Joyce (extreme right, foreground). A poster advertising ladies' corsets hangs on the wall

On 19th Shackleton set off on his second attempt at reaching the South Pole. Accompanying him were Eric Marshall, Jameson Adams and Frank Wild. Learning from his time on the Discovery, Shackleton had improved some aspects of his expedition, but he was still using ponies. They weren’t suited to the freezing temperatures and did not do well on the ice.

After 29 days, Shackleton’s party had passed 82° south, the furthest point reached by Scott and Shackleton in 1902. They had covered the distance in half the time of the first expedition.

They discovered the Beardmore Glacier – named for the expedition’s patron. Shackleton hopefully described it as, ‘an open road to the south’. Yet travelling along the glacier proved difficult. The group lost their last remaining pony to a crevasse. By sheer luck the pony’s harness snapped and Frank Wild avoided being pulled down with the pony.

They continued further south crossing uncharted territory, but relations between the men were beginning to fray. The difficult conditions meant food rations had to be cut, but cigars and crème de menthe had been held back for a small Christmas celebration.

With food running low and moral weakened, Shackleton knew they would not make it to the South Pole. On 4th January 1909, Ernest Shackleton realized he would have to be content reaching within 100 miles of the pole. The expedition, low on rations and in very bad health, continued to travel south. They reached 88° south on 9th January 1909, 97.5 miles from the South Pole, and planted the British flag.

Above: 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 group had been heading south for 73 days, their limited supplies made the return journey extremely challenging. Their ship, the Nimrod, was set to leave Antarctica on 1st March 1909. If they did not reach it in time they would be stranded, presumed dead.

On 19th January they reached the Beardmore Glacier, on the outward journey this ascent had taken twelve days. With only five days’ worth of food left, at half rations, they needed to complete the descent as quickly as possible. The next food supply depot, left on the outward journey, was at the foot of the glacier.

Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams aboard Nimrod

Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams aboard Nimrod after their southern journey

The expedition ship Nimrod

The expedition's ship Nimrod departing for the South Pole

“The worse he felt, the harder he pulled.”

- Jameson Adams, on Ernest Shackleton

The group reached the foot of the glacier on 28th January, and by the 18th February they were seeing landmarks familiar to them. The deadline of 1st March was fast approaching. They were further delayed by a blizzard which held them in camp for 24 hours. With 33 nautical miles to their pick up point, on 27th February, Eric Marshall collapsed. Shackleton realized the severity of their situation; he and Frank Wild set off in an attempt to reach the Nimrod before it sailed.

On the 28th February they finally arrived, to attract the attention of the ship they set fire to the magnetic hut. It took another three days before Marshall and Adams could be rescued. On the 4th March, the whole of Shackleton’s group was safely aboard the Nimrod, and on their way home.

Above: On the return journey. The party reach a depot on the Great Ice Barrier