Abandoning ship

archive photo of dogs looking at the remains of a ship crushed in the ice

The end © Royal Geographical Society

Under pressure

During the ten months she was beset, the Endurance weathered numerous assaults from pressure ice, as the landscape shifted and changed, grinding at the stricken ship's sides. While Hurley's photographs capture the effects of the colossal forces at work around her, the men's diaries describe the terrible creaks and groans, explosive retorts and sighs of distress from the ship's timbers that could be heard above the booming and roar of the ice. Yet alarming as these bouts of pressure were, the men, for the most part, remained confident that their stout little ship would ultimately see them through.

Shackleton did his best to keep the men optimistic about the eventual outcome. Privately however, he prepared for the worst. Captain Frank Worsley records that Shackleton had said to him,;

"The ship can't live in this, Skipper. You had better make up your mind that it is only a matter of time. ...what the ice gets, the ice keeps."

The break-up

The end came in late October 1915. A wave of pressure, visibly moving towards her across the ice, ripped at the ship's sternpost, causing water to pour in. For the next three days, the men worked the ship's pumps continuously in a desperate bid to stem the incoming flood of water. But at 5pm on 27 October 1915 the Endurance lost her battle to the ice and was abandoned.

Ocean Camp

With the ruin of their ship looming behind them, the men set up 'Ocean Camp', a makeshift camp on the ice. Each man was issued warm clothing and a sleeping bag: Shackleton quietly ensured that the warmer reindeer skin bags went to the sailors, while the officers took the less desirable woolen ones. Their most valuable clothing, their Burberry tunics, were the weight of umbrella fabric and windproof but not waterproof. Their five tents were made of linen so thin the moon could be seen through them. With no communication system, no one in the outside world knew where they were.

As always, Shackleton was as concerned with his men's morale as with their physical well-being. He knew that as their leader his every word and gesture would be critical in these vulnerable days. Dr Alexander Macklin reports that in the aftermath of the disaster, Shackleton assembled his men and calmly told them:

"Ship and stores have gone, so now we'll go home."