Ernest Shackleton’s fame as an Antarctic explorer stems from the 191417 Transcontinental Expedition. On this voyage the ship was destroyed by pack ice, leaving the expeditioners to trek across the ice shelf and sail to an island off Antarctica. Yet not a single life was lost.
Shackleton’s earlier expedition in 190709, however, was equally important. It had its share of drama but also some lighter moments. On one occasion the motor car taken on the expedition overheated, leaving the explorers to wait in freezing conditions for it to cool down.
The aims of this expedition, like much Antarctic exploration, combined scientific curiosity with geopolitical interest. They included reaching the geographic South Pole and finding the magnetic South Pole. Although Shackleton fell 100 miles (160 kilometres) short of the former goal, the latter was achieved when a party of three men, including Australian scientists Edgeworth David and Douglas Mawson, located the magnetic pole on 15 January 1909.
Other scientific highlights of the journey were the first ascent of Antarctica’s only active volcano, Mount Erebus, and the discovery that some life forms in Antarctica can survive being completely frozen.
This sledge was used by Melburnian Bertram Armytage, who was in charge of the expedition’s ponies. Although dogs eventually proved their worth in Antarctica, Shackleton’s previous experience made him sceptical of their endurance. While this expedition did use some dogs – and a motorcar – Shackleton relied mainly on ponies to provide the hauling power for the expedition, with mixed success.