"We have shot our bolt" - Shackleton reaches furthest point South


The British Antarctic Expedition 1907–09, otherwise known as the Nimrod Expedition, was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by Ernest Shackleton.



The expedition's ship, Nimrod, departing for the South Pole, 11th August 1907.


The expedition's main target, among a range of geographical and scientific objectives, was to be first to the South Pole. This was not attained, but the expedition's southern march reached a farthest South latitude of 88° 23' S, just 97.5 nautical miles (180.6 km; 112.2 mi) from the pole. This was by far the longest southern polar journey to that date and a record convergence on either Pole. A separate group, led by Welsh Australian geology professor Edgeworth David reached the estimated location of the South Magnetic Pole.


Mackay, Edgeworth David, and Mawson at the Southern Magnetic Pole, 17 January 1909.


The Nimrod expedition also achieved the first ascent of Mount Erebus, Antarctica's second highest volcano.


At 12,450 feet (3,790 m) high, Mount Erebus, had never been climbed. Shackleton & his crew successfully summited on 9th March 1908.


The march South, to attempt to reach the pole began 29th October 1908, a return journey of 1,494 nautical miles (2,767 km; 1,719 mi). The men chosen by Shackleton to accompany him were Marshall, Adams and Wild. 


After enormous struggle across unknown territory and faced with harsh weather conditions, Shackleton finally accepted that the Pole was beyond them. On 4th January 1909, he revised the goal to the symbolic achievement of getting within 100 geographical miles of the Pole. The party struggled on, at the borders of survival, until on 9 January 1909, after a last dash forward without the sledge or other equipment, the march ended. "We have shot our bolt", wrote Shackleton, "and the tale is 88° 23' S".


They were 97.5 geographical miles from the South Pole. The British flag was duly planted, and Shackleton named the polar plateau after King Edward VII.



Jameson Adams, Frank Wild and Eric Marshall (from left to right) plant the Union Jack at their southernmost position, 88° 23', on 9 January 1909. The photograph was taken by expedition leader Ernest Shackleton.


After a grueling 73 days journeying South, Shackleton, Wild, Marshall & Adams turned North. The men had to get back to Hut Point before 1 March deadline.


On 27 February, when they were still 33 nautical miles (61 km; 38 mi) from safety, Marshall collapsed. Shackleton then decided that he and Wild would make a dash for Hut Point in hopes of finding the ship and holding her until the other two could be rescued. They reached the hut late on 28 February. Hoping that the ship was nearby, they sought to attract its attention by setting fire to a small wooden hut used for magnetic observations. Shortly afterwards Nimrod, which had been anchored at the Glacier Tongue, came into view: "No happier sight ever met the eyes of man", wrote Wild later. It was a further three days before Adams and Marshall could be picked up from the Barrier, but by 4 March the whole southern party was aboard and Shackleton was able to order full steam towards the north.



Wild, Shackleton, Marshall and Adams aboard Nimrod after their southern journey.


Shackleton was bitterly disappointed to not have reached the pole. He felt as though they could have made it but they would likely perish on the return journey. Writing to his wife Emily, he expressed his regret but he wasn't prepared to sacrifice his men - "I thought you'd rather have a live donkey than a dead lion".




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