SHACKLETON NEWS ARCHIVE
LONG WEEKS OF STURDY ENDURANCE AND COURAGE IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY: BLIZZARDS, FROSTBITE AND GNAWING HUGER
Wikipedia, the leading online Encyclopedia, has a large number of invaluable articles on Antarctic-related subjects, including details of all Shackleton's travels and information about the expeditions of others.
From the geographic point of view Wikipedia's polar coverage also embraces a wide range of Antarctic and southern ocean details, including South Georgia, the Weddell and Ross Seas and also the Antarctic islands.
Their entry on Elephant Island (one of the South Shetland Islands) is of particular interest to Shackletonians, for it was here that Shackleton's 22 men were marooned from May until 30 August 1916, under Frank Wild's command, while awaiting the return of the "Boss" with help. In South, his account of the ill-fated expedition, Shackleton puts a cheerful gloss upon their arrival there: "As we clustered round the blubber stove, with the acrid smoke blowing in our faces, we were quite a cheerful company...Life was not so bad. We ate our evening meal while the snow drifted down from the surface of the glacier and our chilled bodies grew warm."
Elephant Island is approximately 10 km by 2 km in an east to west orientation, with a maximum elevation of 2,795 ft (852 m) above sea level. Significant named features of the island are Cape Yelcho, Cape Valentine and Cape Lookout at its northeastern and southernmost extremes, and Point Wild, a spit of land on its northern coast.
Cape Wild can be seen on the map, and also Pardo Ridge, which is the highest point on Elephant Island, and was named after Lt. Pardo of the Chilean navy who rescued the men with the Yelcho on the fourth attempt by Shackleton to break through the enclosing ice.
The encylopedia records that the South Shetlands lie about 120 km north of the Antarctic Peninsula. Prior to 1961 they were claimed by three countries: the United Kingdom (since 1908, as part of the Falkland Islands Dependency and the British Antarctic Territory), Chile (since 1940), and Argentina (since 1943). After the signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1959, the Islands' sovereignty was frozen, and they are free for use by any signatory of the treaty for non-military use. The EU awarded the islands overseas territories status as part of the BAT; however the USA and Russia do not recognize these claims; while claiming no Antarctic territories themselves, they have formally reserved their right to do so.
Elephant Island supports no significant flora or native fauna although migratory Gentoo penguins and seals may be found on its shores, and Chinstrap penguins nest there in season. A lack of safe anchorage has prevented any permanent human settlements being formed, despite the island being well placed to support scientific, fishing and whaling activities in the area.
Wikipedia also records a ditty composed by Reginald James, the Endurance expedition's physicist, in honour of the hut they constructed there from the two upturned boats (the Dudley Docker and the Stancomb Wills) in honour of Frank Wild and his leadership:
My name is Frankie Wild-o.
Me hut's on Elephant Isle.
The wall's without a single brick
And the roof's without a tile.
Nevertheless I must confess,
By many and many a mile,
It's the most palatial dwelling place
You'll find on Elephant Isle.
It's the most palatial dwelling place
You'll find on Elephant Isle.
The website of the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics and School of Geosciences records some interesting research conducted into the South Shetland Islands, od which Elephant Island forms an outlying part.
In particular, the website reports on another of Shackleton's possible destinations (along with Clarence Island or Paulet Island):Deception Island.
"Deception Island is a volcanic island, part of the South Shetland chain, on Bransfield Strait, north of the tip of the Antarctic Pensinula at latitude 63 S. The island was first sighted in 1820 by the Antarctic explorer Edward Bransfield. A thriving whaling industry existed there in the early 1900s. The island is seismically very active, having last erupted in 1970. Its harbor, Port Foster, formed during an earlier eruption when a section of the southeastern rim of the central caldera collapsed and was flooded by the sea."
Shackleton originally considered attempting to land on Deception Island, where there was a base, rather than the remote and bleak uninhabited Elephant Island, but adverse tides pulling the boats northwards and eastwards and powerful winds forcing them eastwards rendered an attempt virtually impossible.
The amusing photo seen below comes from the Hein Photo website (where it and other pictures can be viewed in full resolution), a fascinating collection of Natural History photographs taken by photographer Scott Hein.
It is a photo of the memorial which can be found at Point Wild to the captain of the Yelcho, in memory of Luis Pardo Villalon, whosae ship was the last hope of safety for the Shackleton's men. The inscription reads: "Here on 30 August 1916 the Chilean Navy Ship Yelcho, commanded by Luis Pardo Villalon, rescued the 22 men of the Shackleton Expedition, who survived the sinking of the Endurance and lived on this island for four months.'
Scott's attractively-presented gallery to be found at the Heinphoto website, include many first-class, perceptive pictures of many places with a Polar connection, including southern Argentina, the National Park embracing Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, The Falkland Isles and South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula, Deception Island, Clarence Island, Cuverville Island, Port Lockroy and the Lemaire Channel. What will give many visitors to Heinphoto further pleasure is the beautifully detailed pictures of wildlife, much of it photographed with astonishing clarity and great sensitivity.
Another site which features Elephant Island, the Antarctic Peninsula, South Georgia, The Falklands, the South Shetlands, Cape Horn and Tierra del Fuego in a gallery of photos of inspiring quality and imagination is that of Vladimir Dinets, in which all the key and informative pages are posted in English.
Amongst many outstanding qualities, Vladimir's site contains valuable details regarding the places he has visited and charted, which help set the region Shackleton's men set out from and later found themselves marooned in, from the Antarctic Peninsinula to South Georgia, in geographical and zoological perspective.
Not least interesting are Vladimir's pertinent remarks on the Scotia Sea: "The Scotia Sea is a body of water almost the size of the Western Europe, a part of the Southern Ocean. Its borders are marked by Falkland Isles and South Georgia Island in the North, the South Sandwich Islands in the East, Tierra del Fuego, The Drake Passage, and the South Shetland Islands in the West, South Orkney Islands and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula in the South.
"The Antarctic Convergence - a well-defined borderline between the cold Antarctic and relatively warm South Atlantic waters - crosses the Sea, while constant western winds create strong upwellings along the shores of its islands. All that, combined with dramatic relief above and below the surface, makes the Sea and its islands one of the most productive and scenic parts of the World's oceans.
"Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands are very different from other Scotia Sea islands. They have relatively mild maritime climate. Despite being cool and windy places, they also have diverse flora and fauna."