Nimrod Expedition

 Three men in heavy clothing stand in line on an icy surface, next to a flagstaff from which flies the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
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 British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09, otherwise known as the Nimrod Expedition, was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton. Its main target, among a range of geographical and scientific objectives, was to be first to the South Pole. This was not attained, but the expedition's southern march reached a Farthest South latitude of 88° 23' S, just 97.5 nautical miles (180.6 km; 112.2 mi) from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole. [a] A separate group led by Welsh Australian geology professor Edgeworth David reached the estimated location of the South Magnetic Pole, and the expedition also achieved the first ascent of Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second highest volcano.

The expedition lacked governmental or institutional support, and relied on private loans and individual contributions. It was beset by financial problems and its preparations were hurried. Its ship, Nimrod, was less than half of the size of Robert Falcon Scott's 1901–04 expedition ship Discovery, and Shackleton's crew lacked relevant experience. Controversy arose from Shackleton's decision to base the expedition in McMurdo Sound, close to Scott's old headquarters, in contravention of a promise to Scott that he would not do so. Nevertheless, although the expedition's profile was initially much lower than that of Scott's six years earlier, its achievements attracted nationwide interest and made Shackleton a public hero. The scientific team, which included the future Australasian Antarctic Expedition leader Douglas Mawson, carried out extensive geological, zoological and meteorological work. Shackleton's transport arrangements, based on Manchurian ponies, motor traction, and sled dogs, were innovations which, despite limited success, were later copied by Scott for his ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition.

On his return, Shackleton overcame the Royal Geographical Society's initial scepticism about his achievements and received many public honours, including a knighthood from King Edward VII. He made little financial gain from the expedition and eventually depended on a government grant to cover its liabilities. Within three years his southernmost record had been surpassed, as first Amundsen and then Scott reached the South Pole. In his own moment of triumph, Amundsen nevertheless observed: "Sir Ernest Shackleton's name will always be written in the annals of Antarctic exploration in letters of fire". [1]


Shackleton had been a junior officer on Scott's first Antarctic expedition in the Discovery. He had been sent home on the relief ship Morning in 1903, after a physical collapse during the expedition's main southern journey. [b] Scott's verdict was that he "ought not to risk further hardships in his present state of health". [2] Shackleton felt this physical failure as a personal stigma, [3] and on his return to England he was determined to prove himself, in the words of Discovery's second-in command Albert Armitage, as "a better man than Scott". [4] He nevertheless declined the opportunity of a swift Antarctic return as chief officer of Discovery's second relief ship Terra Nova, after helping to fit her out; he also helped to equip Uruguay, the ship being prepared for the relief of Otto Nordenskjold's expedition, stranded in the Weddell Sea. [4] During the next few years, while nursing intermittent hopes of resuming his Antarctic career, he pursued other options. In 1906 he was working for the industrial magnate Sir William Beardmore as a public relations officer. [5]

According to his biographer Roland Huntford, the references to Shackleton's physical breakdown made in Scott's The Voyage of the Discovery, published in 1905, reopened the wounds to Shackleton's pride. It became a personal mission that he should return to the Antarctic and outperform Scott. [6] He began looking for potential backers for an expedition of his own; his initial plans appear in an unpublished document dated early 1906. These include a cost estimate of £17,000 (updated value £1,650,000) for the entire expedition. [7] [8] He received his first promise of financial backing when early in 1907 his employer, Beardmore, offered a £7,000 loan guarantee (updated value £680,000). [8] [9] With this in hand, Shackleton felt confident enough to announce his intentions to the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) on 12 February 1907. [10] One reason for Shackleton's sense of urgency was the knowledge that the Polish explorer Henryk Arctowski was planning an expedition, which was announced at the RGS on the same day as Shackleton's. In the event, Arctowski's plans were stillborn. [11]

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