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Biography of Ernest Shackleton

Photo of Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an early twentieth century explorer.

When and Where was he Born?

15th February 1874, Kilkea House, Kilkea, near Athy, County Kildare, Ireland.

Family Background:

Ernest Shackleton was the tenth child and eldest of two sons of Henry, a doctor and Henrietta Shackleton. Henry moved to Dublin to become a farmer after being declared not fit enough to join the Army. The Shackletons were derived from a Quaker family that had moved from Yorkshire to Dublin in the Eighteenth Century.


Shackleton was educated by a Governess until the age of 11. Fir Lodge Preparatory School in West Hill, Dulwich. Dulwich College and then apprenticed in the Merchant Navy.

Timeline of Ernest Shackleton:

1885: The Shackleton family moves back to England and live at 12 West Hill in Sydenham, Kent.

1887: He goes to Dulwich College.

1890: Ernest leaves Dulwich College and becomes a “ship’s boy” with the North Western Shipping Company on the sailing ship “Hoghton Tower” despite his father urging him to become a doctor.

1894: Shackleton passed his examination for Second Mate and took up a post as a third officer on a steamer owned by the Welsh Shire Line.

1898: He qualifies as a Master Mariner aged 16 and joined the Union Castle Line which ran between Southampton and Cape Town.

1899: During the Boer War Shackleton transfers to the troopship “Tintagel Castle”.

1900: He meets Cedric Longstaff whose father Llewellyn was the main financial backer of the National Antarctic Expedition, then being organised in London and he used his influence to seek an introduction.

1901: Shackleton joins the National Antarctic Expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott as Third Officer and departs for the Antarctic from London in August on the ship “Discovery.” This expedition was organised by Sir Clements Markham, president of the Royal Geographical Society and friend of Longstaff.

1902: Shackleton takes part in an experimental balloon flight and edited the expedition’s magazine “The South Polar Times”. Scott and Edward Wilson reach the furthest South then attained and Shackleton returns to England on the ship “Morning” as he had become ill.

1904: Shackleton is appointed as the Secretary and Treasurer to the Royal Scottish Geographical Society after earning money as a journalist. He had earlier been turned down in his attempts to join the Royal Navy. On 9th April he marries Emily Dorman at Christ Church, Westminster, London.

1906: He stands for Parliament in Dundee as a Liberal Unionist but is not elected.

1907: He is now leading the British Antarctic Expedition and sets off from Torquay for his second trip aboard the ship “Nimrod”. His brother Frank was implicated but later proven not guilty in the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels.

1908: He arrives at the Antarctic and sets off across the snow with team mates, Marshall, Wild and Adams.

1909: By January the team has reached the furthest South yet at 97 miles away from the Pole. His team climb Mount Erebus and perform many scientific experiments. He is Knighted on his return to England in December at Buckingham Palace.

1911: Roald Amundsen reaches the South Pole before Robert Falcon Scott.

1914: Shackleton sets off from Plymouth in August on his third Antarctic trip aboard the ship “Endurance”. He leads the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. By December the ship arrives at South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean. After again sailing south they come up against pack ice.

1915: On January 19th “Endurance” gets trapped in the ice but gets freed. In February “Endurance” reaches Luitpold Island. In October The “Endurance” now stuck in Ice again and severely damaged is abandoned on October 22nd and the crew make a camp on the ice nicknamed “Ocean Camp”. The 27 man crew dump all of their personal possessions except a banjo and Frank Hurley’s scientific photographs. On November 21st the “Endurance” sinks. Hurley keeps 120 glass negatives and breaks the rest so he is not tempted to risk his life going back for them later.

1916: Another camp, called Patience Camp is set up on the ice after a failed attempt to escape. On 9th April three ships boats are launched to try and reach Elephant Island and reach there six days later. After two more days the team move on to Cape Wild. On April 24th one of the boats, The “James Caird” sets off with Sir Ernest and five other crewmen aboard to reach South Georgia where they arrive five days later. After crossing South Georgia on foot Shackleton and two others reach Stromness on the North Coast. His attempts to reach Elephant Island on the ship “Southern Sky”, the “Instituto Pesca No. 1” and the “Emma” all have to turn back due to pack ice. In August he sets off aboard the ship “Yelcho” and rescues the twenty two men who remain abandoned on Elephant Island. In September the “Yelcho” arrives in Chile and he then goes on to New Zealand. Here he boards the “Aurora and sails to the assistance of the Ross Sea Party. Not one member of the Endurance Crew died.

1917: He reaches Cape Royds and collects the Ross Sea Party then returns to England. In October he was sent to Buenos Aires to spread British propaganda in South America. He tried, unsuccessfully, bring Argentina and Chile into the First World War on the side of the Allies.

1918: Shackleton returns to England. He is appointed to a military operation to Murmansk in Russia.

1919: He returns to England. He publishes an account of the Endurance Expedition entitled “South” and returned to lecturing on his experiences. He is awarded an OBE fore his war work in Russia.

1921: On September 27th Shackleton leads his fourth Antarctic mission called the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition and leaves St Katharine’s Dock in London aboard the ship “Quest”. The purpose of the voyage was to try and find lost or unknown sub-Antarctic islands

1922: When the ship arrives at Rio de Janeiro he has a heart attack. His crew are concerned for his welfare but the expedition continues. He arrives at Grytviken on South Georgia on January 4th but is very ill. The doctor on board Alexander Macklin tells him in his cabin he needs to slow down his hectic lifestyle. “You are always wanting me to give up something. What do you want me to give up now?” were his last words. He has a major heart attack and dies at 2.50 a.m.

When and Where did he Die?

5th January 1922, Grytviken, South Georgia Island, South Atlantic, of a heart attack in his cabin aboard the ship “Quest”.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1919: “South”.


9th April 1904 to Emily Dorman at Christ Church, Westminster, London.

Site of Grave:

His wife told the ship’s company not to bring the body back to Britain and he was buried at the Whalers Cemetery, South Georgia, South Atlantic.

Places of Interest:


St Katherine’s Dock near Tower Bridge.
Dulwich College.
Statue outside the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society.