Weekend Warm-Up: Restored Footage Shows Shackleton’s Ship in its Icy Death Throes

Is it just me, or is it physically possible to see the shiver of doom in several men’s pick-axe swings as they try to free the Endurance from her icy clutches?

It must be just me, because all 28 men on Ernest Shackleton’s famous 1914 Antarctic voyage famously survived. Their ship, though — the 44m, three-masted barquentine Endurancedid not.

The endurance crumpling under pressure from sea ice, masts snapping

Photo: Screenshot


Now for the first time, you can watch the Weddell Sea ice cripple her as she succumbs to her watery grave in restored British Film Institute (BFI) footage.

And if that sounds like an overly personified way to describe what happened to a boat, get ready for more in this viewing experience. The silent film-style intertitles describe the action vividly, and humanly.

The ship was helpless

“Huge blocks of ice, weighing many tons, were pushed up all around her and the beleaguered ship stood at bay helpless and with no weapon to meet her advancing foe.”

Endurance masts barely visible over huge ice blocks

Photo: Screenshot


The footage itself is fascinating. Watching the Endurance crumple under the pressure of the pack ice transmits not only the enormous forces at work, but astonishment at the event.

Let alone what it must have been like to be there. Trapped on the vast surface of the Weddell Sea, the men acted in desperation and despair, executing animals and pets on board out of either pity or resource scarcity. One plan involved marching across the ice toward land, but they cut bait with it after stumping just 12km in seven days.

Their months-long subsistence at the horrific camp and eventual lifeboat getaway over churning seas is one of the world’s great survival stories. Frank Wild, Shackleton’s second-in-command, wrote that by the time of the escape voyage to Clarence and Elephant Islands, “at least half the party were insane.”

Don’t miss this gritty, primary-source Weekend “Warm-Up” — and count your lucky stars to be wherever you are while you watch it.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.