SHACKLETON, Sir ERNEST HENRY (1874-1922, Antarctic explorer)
THIS PHOTOGRAPH WITH ITS INSCRIPTION BY SHACKLETON IS ONE OF THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PICTORIAL ITEMS RELATING TO ANTARCTIC EXPLORATION TO BE OFFERED FOR SALE. It shows the beginning of one of the most extraordinary, harrowing and heroic journeys in the history of exploration. The photograph is mounted on a page identical to those seen in Hurley's special presentation albums.
Shackleton described the launch of the James Caird in his account of the expedition, South: 'Then we pushed off for the last time, and within a few minutes I was aboard the James Caird. The crew of the Stancomb Wills shook hands with us as the boats bumped together and offered us the last good wishes. Then, setting our jib, we cut the painter and moved away to the northeast. The men who were staying behind made a pathetic little group on the beach [also photographed by Hurley, from behind], with the grim heights of the island behind them and the sea seething at their feet, but they waved to us and gave three hearty cheers. There was hope in their hearts and they trusted us to bring the help they needed. I had all sails set, and the James Caird quickly dipped the beach and its line of dark figures. The westerly wind took us rapidly to the line of the pack..."alone, alone, all, all alone, alone on a wide, wide sea..."'
On 5 December 1914 Shackleton and his team, the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition, had set out from South George in the ship the Endurance to cross the South Polar continent from sea to sea, what he called 'the first crossing of the last continent.' On 24 January 1915 the Endurance became locked in an ice pack and drifted 570 miles in 281 days. Under constant pressure from the ice floes the decks finally began to buckle and on 27 October the ship was abandoned. On 21 November 1915 she sank. On 15 April 1916 the crew arrived on Elephant Island after 497 days at sea and on the ice. Only ten days later, on 24 April, Shackleton and five men [McNeish, McCarthy, Vincent, Worsley and Crean] set out in the twenty-two-foot-long and six-foot-three-inch-wide weather-beaten ordinary whaler James Caird for South Georgia 800 miles away to bring a relief party. After the most incredible journey, dramatically related by Shackleton in South, surviving one wave so high that at first they mistook its crest for clear sky on the horizon in addition to constant pounding by lesser waves, they landed on South Georgia on 10 May. They still had to reach Leith Harbour, only 29 miles away in a straight line, but across the most untraversable interior of the island (which was to be crossed only for the second time in 1955 by a well equipped party of expert climbers) - Shackleton had only a 50-foot length of rope. They reached Stromness Whaling Station on 20 May. On 30 August Shackleton rescued the 22 castaways on Elephant Island.
Three days before leaving Elephant Island Shackleton gave the following letter to Hurley: '...In the event of my not surviving the boat journey to South Georgia I here instruct Frank Hurley to take complete charge & responsibility for exploitation of all films & photographic reproductions of all films & negatives taken on this Expedition the aforesaid films & negatives to become the property of Frank Hurley after due exploitation, in which, the moneys to be paid to my executors will be according to the contract made at the start of the expedition...' At the same time he said to Hurley: ' I think it right that you stay with the expedition. In some ways you "are" the expedition. I don't know what our chances are in the Caird; evens at best, I suspect. If we die, then what we've done lies with you and your pictures. You are our story. If I don't come back, I want to make sure there's someone there to tell it...'