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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust/National Geographic via PA Images The stern of the wreck of Endurance, Ernest Shackleton’s ship
# Ernest Shackleton
'It's amazing': Irish excitement as Shackleton’s lost ship Endurance found after 107 years
The wooden ship had not been seen since it went down in the Weddell Sea in 1915.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 9th 2022, 2:20 PM

THE WRECK OF renowned polar explorer and Kildare man Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance has been found 107 years after it became trapped in sea ice and sank off the coast of Antarctica.

The wooden ship had not been seen since it went down in the Weddell Sea in 1915, and in February the Endurance22 Expedition set off from Cape Town, South Africa, a month after the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s death on a mission to locate it.

The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust said Endurance was found at a depth of 3,008 metres and approximately four miles south of the position originally recorded by the ship’s captain Frank Worsley.

Aileen Crean O’Brien, granddaughter of Tom Crean, the renowned Irish explorer who was on board the Endurance, told The Journal: “It’s so exciting. It’s fantastic that new technology has allowed this to happen and just to see the image of it in the video, it’s so pristine. It’s amazing altogether.”

She said that she hopes the discovery will bring further attention to the fact that three of the crew on board the Endurance were Irish – Crean, Shackleton and Cork man Tim McCarthy. 

Crean O’Brien said that conditions in the area are tough, and that a couple of weeks ago the crew that found the wreck got stuck in the ice themselves, while on board a South African ice breaker. “Even with that, the conditions down there are so severe. You have to respect nature,” she said. 

Nothing can be raised from the spot, she said, but the fact the ship is still so intact showed how well made it was. “It would be wonderful if it had happened in my mum and aunts’ lifetime,” said Crean O’Brien, as her mother was the daughter of Tom Crean. She said she hopes the discovery will revitalise interest in the Tom Crean story and that of the other Irish men involved in Antarctic exploration. “It’s important for the kids to read about that and learn about it, and be inspired by local heroes,” she said.  

The expedition’s director of exploration said footage of Endurance showed it to be intact and “by far the finest wooden shipwreck” he has seen.

Mensun Bound said: “We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance.

“It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see ‘Endurance’ arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.

“This is a milestone in polar history.”

Dr John Shears, the expedition leader, said his team, which was accompanied by historian Dan Snow, had made “polar history” by completing what he called “the world’s most challenging shipwreck search”.

He said: “In addition, we have undertaken important scientific research in a part of the world that directly affects the global climate and environment.

“We have also conducted an unprecedented educational outreach programme, with live broadcasting from on board, allowing new generations from around the world to engage with Endurance22 and become inspired by the amazing stories of polar exploration, and what human beings can achieve and the obstacles they can overcome when they work together.”

Shackleton and his crew set out to achieve the first land crossing of Antarctica but Endurance did not reach land and became trapped in dense pack ice, forcing the 28 men on board to eventually abandon ship.

John O’Reilly of the Shackleton Exhibition told The Journal that the discovery was “something that nobody really expected”. “The images I’ve seen so far are extraordinary,” he said. He said that it’s incredible to be able to see the ship in place because no one was sure how much of it had survived after it was crushed by ice.

He’s curious about what might still be on board. There are stories that photographer Frank Hurley broke glass plates that the crew weren’t going to take with them, but that other stories say boxes of plates were left on board.

“There might be artifacts left behind which would be absolutely extraordinary,” he said. 

“They abandoned ship in October [and it sank in November], so they had quite a bit of time to retrieve bits and pieces,” he said. “They went back to take things off. What would be interesting is what they did leave behind, what articles or what pieces of personal items, or ship equipment they couldn’t take with them. That would be fascinating – that would give more insight into what was their thinking and why did they decide to leave certain things behind.”

Trapped

Shackleton and his crew were forced to abandon the Endurance after it was trapped and crushed by Antarctic ice. With no other options available, they undertook a perilous lifeboat trip to safety before setting up a makeshift camp on the tiny Elephant Island – on the edge of the continent.

Six men set off on the James Caird, including Shackleton, Tom Crean, captain Frank Worsley, English seaman John Vincent, Cork sailor Tim McCarthy and McNish, the carpenter. 

Shackleton’s own account of the James Caird voyage underscores why it’s regarded as such an incredible sailing feat. 

From his book ‘South’:

The tale of the next sixteen days is one of supreme strife amid heaving waters. The sub-Antarctic Ocean lived up to its evil winter reputation.

The men endured freezing conditions, their epic ordeal finally coming to an end on 10 May when they arrived at South Georgia’s King Haakon Bay.

Unfortunately for the exhausted men, the whaling station where they had been hoping to seek help was on the far side of the island. Leaving the others camped out with the boat, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley set out on foot to begin another never-before-attempted journey – traversing the island’s mountainous interior.

Accounts tell how Shackleton was unrecognisable when he showed up at the ‘Stromness’ station on the far side of South Georgia, covered in blubber-smoke, with long hair and beard.

A whaling boat – with Worsley on board – was dispatched straight away to pick up McCarthy, Vincent and McNish from the south of South Georgia, and soon all six were enjoying a hot meal.

It took almost four months and two failed attempts before the Shackleton was able to mount a successful rescue operation, eventually reaching his stranded crewmen on Elephant Island aboard Chilean steam tug the Yelcho.

Remarkably, of the 28-strong crew who had set sail on the Endurance, he hadn’t lost a single man.

- With reporting from PA 

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