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Keeping the spirit of Shackleton alive

16 July 2010 by Sam

portrait of a smiling man

Lt Col Henry Worsley in the exhibition

I was fortunate to be able to atend the official opening of Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic adventure yesterday. The exhibition was officially opened by Lt Col Henry Worsley, whose grandfather Frank Worsley was part of Shackleton’s Endurance expedition and a key member of his rescue party.

However our speaker wasn’t invited just on the merits of his grandfather. In 2008-09 he led an expedition of his own, taking a group made up of descendents of Shackleton’s original expedition members to recreate one of the great explorer’s earlier attempts to reach the South Pole a century before them.

In an incredible lecture he described the difficulties faced by Shackleton’s original team and how, even with the advantages of modern technology, his own expedition faced a monumental challenge. The entire audience was spellbound throughout, especially when Henry showed us pictures of Shackleton’s very own compass, which his grandaughter lent to him to guide them on their journey.

His lecture gave a real insight into Shackleton’s character. Very few people would even consider making such a dangerous journey and having tried and failed you would understand if they didn’t ever want to go back. Not Shackleton though, who returned to the Antarctic several times until his final fatal expedition in 1921.

You may wonder what drives such a determined man. According to Henry it was largely due to ego, as Shackleton wanted the fame and glory of being the first to conquer this seemingly unpassable terrain. However he made it clear that despite this Shackleton never failed to put the welfare of his men first. This is what made him take the difficult decision to turn back before reaching the South Pole on 9 January 1909, and it’s what kept all 28 members of the Endurance expedition alive.

This fascinating insight made the photos in the exhibition even more poignant. It’s well worth making a visit to see it. Don’t forget that the Maritime Museum’s opening hours are extended to 7pm this Saturday and Sunday as part of the On the Waterfront weekend. If you can then catch the performances by our roleplayer Dave Brown, who will be playing Tom Crean from the Endurance expedition on both days – full details are on the exhibition events programme.

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