Tag Archives: Ernest Shackleton


26 Apr

Scurvy is due to a deficiency of ascorbic acid. It is cured by adequate quantities of vitamin C or citrus fruits.

At two recent talks about Shackleton I was asked about scurvy—did Shackleton get scurvy? Was the cause of the disease known in the early 1900s? The answers are; yes to the first question, no to the second

Shackleton did of course, famously suffer from scurvy in the 1902/3 ‘Southern Journey’ when, with Scott and Edward Wilson, he developed signs of the disease as they neared their furthest South point of 82° 11’S latitude. Shackleton was by far the worst on the return journey; in fact Wilson, at one point, thought he might die. When the party returned to base, Scott was sent him home on the relief ship ‘Morning’ on health grounds. This was a devastating blow for a proud and ambitious man and made him doubly keen to avoid the disease on his further expeditions.

Shackleton’s Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition included the ship ‘Aurora’ that sailed to the Ross Sea. ‘Aurora’s’ brief was to provide supplies for Shackleton’s party at the end of their Trans Antarctic crossing (in fact his party dis not actually get onto the continent) and one of this Ross party died of scurvy. Shackleton’s main party do not appear to have suffered from the disease, probably probably because Shackleton was so well aware of the necessity of preventative action and provided seal meat and importantly, seal liver on a regular basis. He also took preserved fruit and vegetables.

But why was there still uncertainty about the disease in the early 1900s? This was because of a lack of conviction and consensus about the benefits of citrus fruits. Although for many years some ships’ doctors and sailors had used oranges and lemons to cure or prevent scurvy, many European physicians persisted in reviewing and quoting confusing literature in which all manner of possible causes were postulated.

The problem could have been solved by James Lind’s controlled therapeutic trial of 1747 in which twelve patients with scurvy (six pairs), were given treatments that had been suggested previously. The remedies were two weeks of: a quart of cider per day, half a pint of sea water per day, 25 drops of elixir of vitriol three times a day, two spoonfuls of vinegar three times a day, a purgative three times a day, OR two oranges and one lemon daily. The men receiving citrus fruit recovered rapidly. A problem subsequently was that in order to conserve citrus fruits on long expeditions, Lind almost boiled purified citrus fruit into a ‘rob’. This obviously damaged the heat labile ascorbic acid and was ineffective. Also, in his ‘Treatise on the Scurvy’ of 1753, he did not unequivocally recommend citrus fruits for general use. When he moved to the Royal Naval Hospital Haslar, in Gosport, Hampshire, he treated sailors with oranges and lemons and said that the juices should be used in the Royal Navy, as they had been so successful in merchant ships. After recommendations by other physicians, the Admiralty ordered lemon juice for the fleet in 1795 and by the middle of the 1800s there was ample evidence that scurvy was both preventable and treatable.

But there is a law of unintended consequences! In the late 1800s lime juice from the West Indies was substituted for lemon juice. Lime juice has considerably less antiscorbutic properties than lemon juice, also it was transported in containers that further reduced its potency. Scurvy returned. By the time Scott left on the ‘Discovery’ expedition he was advised by his Senior Surgeon and Sir Almoth Wright of St Mary’s Hospital, London that the cause of scurvy was acid-intoxication in the tins of food (Wilson had to taste and smell all food to be eaten each day and discard any he thought ‘tainted’).

When Shackleton went on his first three expeditions therefore details concerning the cause of scurvy were not known although Shackleton was clearly aware of the benefits of seal meat/offal after his first expedition. It was not until after his expeditions that scurvy was shown to be a dietary deficiency disease. And not until 1928 that Ascorbic acid was isolated.


30 Aug

The men on Scott’s expeditions to Antarctica in the early 1900s were resourceful, courageous, and determined. On the premise that characters do not change I thought it would be interesting, at this time when the First World War is so much remembered, to follow the fortunes of the officers in the First World War starting with the officers on ‘Discovery’. The subject of the subsequent careers of the early Antarctic explorers is   fascinating (many went on to very distinguished careers) and is one I will return to later.

On ‘Discovery’ Scott’s complement included six lieutenants, two doctors (one of whom took on the duties of botanist, the other artist and zoologist) a biologist, a geologist and a physicist. The average age was 28, five were 25 or younger

Scott and Dr Wilson died in 1912 on the return from the Pole. Dr Koettlitz the senior doctor went to South Africa after the expedition and died of dysentery in that country in 1916.

Of the remaining eight who served in WW1, remarkably, all survived.

The ‘father’ of the ‘Discovery’ expedition Sir Clements Markham often recorded his impressions on the men he would appoint and I include a few on the ‘Discovery’ men for interest. Sir Clements was frank in his assessment of men (for example, in relation to Dr Koettleiz, mentioned above, Sir Clements wrote that he was’ zealous and painstaking’, but that ‘his mind perhaps works rather slowly and he has no sense of humour, but on the other hand he is thorough and persevering’.

 Albert Armitage, RNR, Second in Command, Sir Clements was’ happy with this appointment’. Armitage was at sea throughout the war. He commanded a transport ship ‘Salsette’ which was torpedoed with the loss of 14 crewmembers. After the war he returned to work for the P&O Line.

Charles Royds, RN, First Lieutenant, Sir Clements thought he was ‘a first-rate seaman who should become one of the Antarctic heroes’, was, in 1915, given command of the battleship HMS ‘Emperor of India’ an appointment that was thought to be made at an unusually young age for a junior Captain. He was appointed Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG), in 1919, for his war service.

Michael Barne, RN, Second Lieutenant, was recorded by Sir Clements as ‘a charming young fellow and so zealous that he would have thrown up his commission rather than not go and a relation of mine which is also in his favour’ In 1914 he was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Silver Medal for diving overboard in an attempt to rescue a sailor in an Atlantic gale and subsequently served with distinction in the Dardanelles (a strait in N.W. Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea with the Sea of Marmara, an important exit to the sea for Russia) and on the Dover Patrol, This patrol was a Royal Navy unit based at Dover /Dunkirk with the primary aim of keeping German shipping and submarines on their way to the Atlantic out of the English Channel.

Barne was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSO) when in command of Monitor M27, a shore bombardment vessel.

Ernest Shackleton, RNR, Third Lieutenant ‘an excellent and zealous officer, the son of a doctor in Northwood but from Ireland. His great grandfather was the Quaker Shackleton who was the instructor of Edmund Burke’, Shackleton, Sir Clements wrote. was ‘steady, high-principled, strong hard working, good- tempered and well informed’. After the ‘Endurance’ expedition many of Shackleton’s crew played a part in WW1 but Shackleton had, what I imagine for him, was a disappointing war in terms of combat contributions. The government had had to arrange a rescue mission when Shackleton was trying to rescue all his crew after they were stranded, and although this expedition was not required eventually, I imagine Shackleton’s reception was muted when he reached England. He was too old to be conscripted (though he volunteered for an army post in France) and was appointed to a diplomatic position in Buenos Aires, where he hoped to persuade Chile and Argentina to join the war on the Allies side. This was followed by a position as an undercover agent in Spitsburgen (an island near Norway) and then a post in Murmansk to aid with supplies to beleaguered Russia.

George Mulock, RN, Third Lieutenant. Shackleton was replaced by Mulock when he returned to England in 1903. Mulock received letters of commendation in the early part of the war when leading convoys in the Far East. He then served with distinction in the Gallipoli campaign. The battleship ‘HMS Ocean’ sank after hitting a mine; Mulock rescued many sailors from the water. He was mentioned in dispatches and his actions recorded in ‘The London Gazette’

Reginald Skelton, Chief Engineer, RN. In May 1916, Skelton took part in the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea off Denmark, This was the largest naval battle of the war and the only full-scale clash between battleships and Skelton was A valuable officer whose deportment during the action reflected credit on his organisation’. He was awarded the DSO for his services in this battle. Subsequently, he served in submarines from 1917-1918.

Louis Bernacchi Physicist and Magnetic Observer Bernaacchi remarkably served in the Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve, The Admiralty and the United States Navy. Impressively he was awarded both the Order of the British Empire and the United States Naval Cross

Hartley Ferrar, Geologist He was a master at Christchurch College, New Zealand at the outbreak of war and joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force based mainly in Palestine His work involved aerial surveys and intelligence

Thomas Vere Hodgson, Biologist This is the only explorer about whom I was unable to find details of wartime experience. Aged 50 at the outbreak of the war, he was too old for service in addition he suffered from ill health. Having worked in the Plymouth Biological Laboratory and subsequently becoming curator of the Plymouth Museum, he probably spent the war years in this role.

These records underline the fact that we do not change. These men kept up their impressive records through and indeed after WW1


TAGS: WW1, Scott, Sir Clements Markham, Albert Armitage, Charles Royds, Michael Barne, Ernest Shackleton, George Mulock, Reginald Skelton, Louis Bernacchi, Hartley Ferrar, Thomas Vere Hodgson, Reginald Koettlitz, The Dover Patrol, The Dardanelles The Battle of Jutland,

Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition 1914

28 Feb

On August 1, 1914. Ernest Shackleton set off on his hugely ambitious expedition: The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. His aim; to cross the Antarctic from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Amongst his crew was the experienced navigator, Frank Worsley and crewmen Ernest Wild and Tom Crean, all to be famous in Antarctic history. The photographer, who was to take wonderful images of ‘The Endurance’ in her death throes, was Frank Hurley. Shackleton’s plan had been formulated when news reached England that Amundsen, followed by Scott, had actually reached the Pole. There was no glory in being the third party to get there.

August 1914 was the start of WW1. Before sailing Shackleton offered ship and crew to the government. The First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill, no doubt be-devilled by multiple national concerns, replied ‘Proceed’

‘Endurance’ left South Georgia to go to Antarctica on 5/12/14. This was later than planned because of unusually severe pack ice. THREE days later the crew unexpectedly met with the pack. They were not to reach dry land for over 400 days. They were not to get back to the whaling station on South Georgia until 19/05/16, having spent seventeen months going round the Weddell Sea, surviving on pack ice and sailing perilously small sailing boats, firstly to Elephant Island and then back to South Georgia. The team never reached the continent. ‘Endurance’ sunk into the deep on November 21, 1915. It was written ‘that some failures are greater than success’ and this was one.

Had they landed, could the expedition have been successful? It seems improbable. Ranulph Fiennes’ very recent expedition, to achieve the traverse that Shackleton aimed for, well stocked, and well planned as it was, had to abandon the attempt after about 50 (of the 1800) miles of the crossing.  Vivian Fuchs who achieved the first crossing in 1957, was met at the South Pole by Edmund Hillary who had crossed from the Ross Base with supplies. Fuchs experienced as he was, had difficulty getting his snow cats (linked together by heavy- duty cable in case they fell into a crevasse), over the immense chasms south of the Weddell Sea.

Shackleton was aiming to cross with dogs and manpower. He HAD arranged for supplies, but not up to the Pole, just as far as the Beardmore Glacier.  It is difficult to imagine how he could have achieved his monumental ambition. The pack ice may have been the salvation of the expedition. 

Transport in the Antarctic

31 Dec

Felicity Aston the explorer, writes in the Geographical about motorised transport to the South Pole. There are now tracked vehicles that can work even in the extreme temperatures and awful surfaces of Antarctica. The South Pole Operations Traverse transports fuel from the Ross Sea to the South Pole station each year. The journey takes 40 days for the round trip and is made by a convoy of tracked vehicles.It saves many transport flights to The Pole. Felicity describes also the use of four -wheel-drive vehicles with big tyres of very low pressure, that can tackle even the softest surface.

Felicity described Ernest Shackleton’s car. He took this to Antarctica as part of a publicity campaign for his sponsor Beardmore, who ran the Arrol-Johnston engineering company in Scotland. The car was four cylinder, 15 horse power. Newspapers at the time, (which I have read), quoted Shackleton as saying that the car could go at over 50 mph and he thought it might get to The Pole.

The car did not do well, but the suggestion that it might get to The Pole is not as far fetched  as it may appear at first. Shackleton thought that the Ice Barrier (that leads to the glaciers that rise to the high Antarctic plateau), would actually stretch on to the South Pole. He only discovered that the mountains stood in the way of his advance when he was on his expedition. It was said afterwards, that he showed enormous courage in launching himself up the glacier.