Glazed pottery from Delft, the Netherlands
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2014 marks the centenary of one of the greatest polar adventures ever. Exactly a 100 years ago, even as WWI broke out across Europe, Ernest Shackleton, hero of the 1907-1909 Nimrod Expedition that reached the Magnetic South Pole, set off again for Antarctica. This time he was leading the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition, with the express aim of crossing the Antarctic continent on foot. Two ships, the Endurance and the Aurora, carrying a crew of 28 men each, reached South Georgia by end-November. In early December, the Endurance, carrying Shackleton and a crew of 27, left for the Weddell Sea. But disaster soon struck while the ship was navigating the sea ice. On January 19, the ship got stuck on an ice floe and literally froze there.
Shackleton’s only hope was to wait through the Antarctic winter until the sea would thaw when spring came. The ship was transformed into a winter station. Spring arrived in September, and when the Endurance finally broke free, it started sinking — the hull had been punctured by the ice. Shackleton gave orders to abandon ship, and camps were set up on the surrounding ice floes. Endurance sank on November 21 and the party was effectively marooned. Another four months elapsed as Shackleton and his men tried to reach land in vain. Finally, in early April, the floe they were on broke into two, and the crew got into their lifeboats and, following a five-day ordeal, reached Elephant Island. Later in April, Shackleton and six others piled into one lifeboat and headed for South Georgia, covering a whopping 800 nautical miles of stormy seas and a hurricane in 15 days. But the whaling stations that Shackleton was aiming for lay on the other side of the island. Shackleton and two others roped up and walked the 51km to the nearest whaling station, a remarkable feat of endurance. The Aurora meanwhile had been blown out to sea, so Shackleton appealed to the Chilean government, which lent him a tug called Yelcho. A rescue mission was finally launched with Yelcho and the whaling ship SS Southern Sky and the Elephant Island men were rescued on 30 August 1916. They’d been there for four and a half months.
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