SHACKLETON NEWS ARCHIVE
The 'South Pole' site is also a very useful source for biographies of the main competitors in the history of Antarctic exploring, both early pioneers and those who were part of the second great age of Antarctic exploration.
The completion of the great British naval expedition of 1839-43, under the command of James Clark Ross on HMS Erebus and Francis Rawdon Moira Crozier on HMS Terror brought to an end the era of early Antarctic exploration. On the other hand, a significant number of sealing and whaling voyages were undertaken by a variety of nations in the years leading up to the end of the century.
In July 1895, the Sixth International Geographical Congress met in London and adopted a resolution: 'That this congress record its opinion that the exploration of the Antarctic Regions is the greatest piece of geographical exploration still to be undertaken. That in view of the additions to knowledge in almost every branch of science which would result from such a scientific exploration the Congress recommends that the scientific societies throughout the world should urge in whatever way seems to them most effective, that this work should be undertaken before the close of the century'.
Just such an undertaking was already under preparation by a lieutenant in the Royal Belgian Navy. He was 29 years old and his name was Adrien Victor Joseph de Gerlache. a 250-ton barque was purchased for 70,000 francs in Norway. The three-masted whaler Patric had been built for the icy waters of the north. Extensive refitting was done and subsequently re-christened as the Belgica. On July 29, 1896, de Gerlache received a letter from a 25-year-old Norwegian wishing to sail, unpaid, aboard the 'Belgica'. His request was accepted and thus Roald Amundsen was added to the ship's crew.
The stories of other great figures in the history of Antarctic Exploration can also be found there. They include Otto Nordenskjöld, the Scandinavian who was also the discoverer of the North East Passage (north of Russia to the Bering Strait) and who also suffered a disaster to his ship and threat to his and his men's lives comparable to Shackleton's loss of the Endurance.
Indeed Nordenskjöld's disaster, and the remarkable story of the saving of his men, together with other stories of ship-loss and survival (or non-survival) from earlier in the century and in the early years of Polar exploration, will have had a strong influence on the planning of men like Shackleton, Nansen, Scott and Amundsen.
Other prominent expeditions included those from the United States, from many parts of Europe, including the Scandinavian countries, France and Germany, with Russia and China in pursuit, and also from Japan:
It was with the assistance of Shackleton, Nordenskjöld and Amundsen that the great German explorer Wilhelm Filchner, after whom the Filchner Ice Shelf was named, secured the use of the Norwegian ship the Bjorn, which earned fame when renamed the Deutschland. The ship left Buenos Aires on 4th October 1911 and arrived on the 18th at South Georgia.
The German crew spent the next 48 days at the Norwegian whaling station at Grytviken. While there, they boarded the Undine and investigated the coasts, making new charts, and re-opened the observatory at Royal Bay. They also made an exploratory trip to the South Sandwich Islands.
Filchner's ship and crew departed for the Weddell Sea on December 11, 1911. What with the life-threatening experience of Nordenskjöld before him, Filchner wrote, "None of us knew if we would ever come back alive".
Sir Hubert Wilkins (1888-1959), who served on Shackleton's Quest expedition, was one of the great Australian Polar explorers who followed in the steps of Sir Douglas Mawson. His first Polar expedition, to the Arctic, was in 1913. He was an eminent photographer who recorded Australia's wartime contribution, including at Ypres uner fire, and returned to film the Gallipoli battlefield where the Anzacs made their famous stand, after the war.
Wilkins' many ventures included Antarctic flights and an attempt to take a submarine, the Nautilus, under the North Pole in summer, 1931. Despite the failure to achieve his planned end, he did succeed in proving that submarines are capable of operating beneath the polar ice cap, and this important discovery paved the way for successful submarine exploratory trips thereafter.
Wilkins' other bold endeavours in the Arctic included a pioneering flight to Spitsbergen from Alaska across the Arctic Sea. Later he and his colleague and pilot, Carl Ben Eielson, were the first to make flights over the Antarctic (exploring the Graham Land Pensinsula starting from Deception Island - this was the first time ever that a plane had been used to map uncharted territory).
However Wilson was unsuccessful in his ernest bid to become the first to fly to the South Pole.
After the 1919 Air Race (says Sir Hubert.com) Wilkins returned to England strongly determined to continue polar exploration. He joined Dr John Cope on the Imperial Antarctic Expedition. It was Wilkins' first trip to the Antarctic, but the expedition lacked funds and achieved relatively little.
Next, Hubert Wilkins was appointed Naturalist on what was to prove Sir Ernest Shackleton's last expedition to the Antarctic, aboard the Quest. The ship gave trouble on the way out, and had to be repaired in South America. Wilkins went on ahead to South Georgia to photograph the flora and fauna. It was only when the Quest arrived six weeks later that he learned the tragic news that Shackleton had died on board ship
Many years later, after Wilkins' death in 1958, a ship was named after him. The Sir Hubert Wilkins is an ice-strengthened ship which was formerly the state launch of Finland. It was purchased in 2000 by Antarctic veterans Don and Margie McIntyre, of the Australian based company "Ocean Frontiers". She was converted in October 2000 and a helicopter landing pad was added. She is now based in Tasmania and operates from there south to the Antarctic mainland in the Australian Antarctic Territory and the Ross Dependency, providing logistic support for both private and government-sponsored Antarctic expeditions.
Many of Hubert Wilkins's papers have been collected and archived by the Byrd Polar Research Center at the Ohio State University. Their site is well worth a visit, and gives details of the collection held and samples of the photos, of which a large number can be obtained on CD at low cost.