On this day in 1922 one of my heroes died. Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, polar explorer and perhaps the last of the breed of boys own explorers to emerge from the late Victorian period.
His most famous exploits live on in legend, but he actually failed to reach his goal on every expedition he set out on. But what glorious failure, what magnificent near misses! ‘I love the fight and when things are easy I hate it’ he once wrote in a letter home to his wife Emily.
In 1902, serving on an expedition to the South Pole with Scott, he was sent ahead on a three man team, which finally only turned back 460 miles from the Pole, in the kind of temperatures that no man on earth was equipped to experience at the time.
In 1908 Shackleton tried again, this time at the head of his own private expedition, having begged and borrowed sponsorship in ever creative ways. Always a great team leader, Shackleton put his fellow men above his personal glory, turning back this time an agonising 97 miles short of the Pole. He could have pressed on, but it would have meant certain death for his colleagues. This failed attempt was the one for which he was knighted upon his return.
Perhaps the greatest story came about from the greatest failure of the lot. The 1914-16 expedition on the Endurance, where Shackleton lost his ship to the ice before they even reached Antarctica. His heroism though was in the way he intervened to save his entire crew during an amazing two year retreat.
Margot Morrell writes of this time. ‘It was a tale so amazing you’ll wonder why the Endurance saga hasn’t become a part of every school age child’s reading.’
This true explorer, great leader of men, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, and sailor was so full of hope that he and his men always felt as though they had a chance. Typically, he died having another go. On his ship in South Georgia in January 1922.
Livingstone had his heart buried in Africa. Emily, Shackleton’s long suffering wife, sent word that his remains were to be buried in South Georgia. The ships doctors , Macklin, wrote these words in his diary. "I think this is as "the Boss" would have had it himself, standing lonely in an island far from civilisation, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas, & in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits."
In our day when heroes come and go with the rise and fall of popular culture, this man is to be rightly saluted as a true hero, one who spent himself, wasted his life on a glorious pursuit after greatness!