Ernest Shackleton’s Incredible Leadership on the Endurance(Ship)

This is a great story of Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s survival for over a year on the ice-bound Antarctic seas. Shackleton’s leadership of his crew was remarkable. Below is an excerpt from the book about his commitment to lead his men to civilization.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred LansingEndurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage

On one trip, a group of men ran the blue Union Jack up to the forward yardarm, the only rigging still standing. When the Endurance went, she would at least go with her colors flying.

The work of packing the sledges continued the next day and in the afternoon Shackleton called all hands together into the center of the circle of tents. His face was grave. He explained it was imperative that all weight be reduced to the barest minimum. Each man, he said, would be allowed the clothes on his back, plus two pairs of mittens, six pairs of socks, two pairs of boots, a sleeping bag, a pound of tobacco–and two pounds of personal gear. Speaking with the utmost conviction, Shackleton pointed out that no article was of any value when weighed against their ultimate survival, and he exhorted them to be ruthless in ridding themselves of every unnecessary ounce, regardless of its value.

After he had spoken, he reached under his parka and took out a gold cigarette case and several gold sovereigns and threw them into the snow at his feet.

Then he opened the Bible Queen Alexandra had given them and ripped out the flyleaf and the page containing the Twenty-third Psalm. He also tore out the page from the Book of Job with this verse on it:

“Out of whose womb came the ice?

And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?

The waters are hid as with a stone.

And the face of the deep is frozen.”

Then he laid the Bible in the snow and walked away.

It was a dramatic gesture, but that was the way Shackleton wanted it. From studying the outcome of past expeditions, he believed that those that burdened themselves with equipment to meet every contingency had fared much worse than those that had sacrificed total preparedness for speed.

As the afternoon wore on, the number of nonessentials dumped in the snow grew steadily. It was an “extraordinary collection of stuff,” James noted. Chronometers, axes, an ophthalmoscope, saws, telescopes, socks, lenses, jerseys, chisels, books, stationery-and a large number of pictures and personal keepsakes. For some men, the two-pound limit on personal gear was relaxed for special reasons. The two surgeons, of course, were permitted a small amount of medical supplies and instruments.  The men with diaries were allowed to keep them. And Hussey actually was ordered to take his zither banjo along, even though it weighed 12 pounds. It was lashed in its case under the bow sheets of the whaler to keep it out of the weather.

The journey would begin the next day. On the eve of setting out, Shackleton wrote: “I pray God I can manage to get the whole party safe to civilization.”


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