The centenary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s departure from Plymouth on the quest to cross Antarctica is to be commemorated with three days of celebrations in August.
Shackleton and his crew boarded the ship Endurance at Millbay Docks on August 8, 1914, setting out to become the first team to cross the continent via the South Pole.
But rather than becoming a celebration of exploration, the expedition was ultimately one of the greatest rescue operations in history, as the crew were unable to land and had to launch an audacious and protracted two-year bid to save their lives.
A century later, from August 6-8, the Duke of Cornwall Hotel in Plymouth – where Shackleton stayed the night before the expedition – will host a series of events to commemorate the occasion. There will also be a recreation of his departure from Millbay.
The Shackleton 100 Plymouth events are being coordinated by the Devon and Cornwall Polar Society, and its chairman Paul Davies said:
“This event in Plymouth will be the first of a series of Shackleton 100 events over the next two years to commemorate this expedition, culminating in a national service of thanksgiving in 2016 at Westminster Abbey. When the men were marooned and completely isolated from the rest of the world for two years they suffered terrible hardships. The story of their rescue under Shackleton’s leadership is truly inspirational. Several of the men had strong links to Plymouth and it is right that the city is commemorating its part in this famous expedition.”
After leaving Plymouth and sailing the Atlantic, early in 1915, Endurance became trapped in the Antarctic ice and ten months later sank. Shackleton's crew had already abandoned the ship to live on the floating ice and in April 1916, they set off in three small boats, eventually reaching Elephant Island.
Taking five crew members, Shackleton then went to find help and the six men spent 16 days crossing 1,300 km of ocean to reach South Georgia, then trekked across the mountainous island of South Georgia to a whaling station to get help. The remaining men from the Endurance were rescued in August 1916, and not one member of the expedition died.