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Antarctic Explorer’s Ship Found After a Century

The Endurance was found after 107 years mostly intact.

By:  |  March 18, 2022  |    777 Words
GettyImages-480801023 Endurance Ship

The Endurance (Photo by Frank Hurley/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge/Getty Images)

Shipwrecks and sunken treasure – the stuff dreams are made of. The quest to find a ship that was lost at sea hundreds of years ago with the promise of gold and trinkets has lured many a treasure-seeker to spend their lives hunting. The goal isn’t always treasure, though. Sometimes it’s about discovering what happened to the ship and crewmembers. Such is the case with the Endurance – a ship that sank 107 years ago and was just recently discovered.

In November 1915, the Endurance was part of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The mission was to make the first land crossing of Antarctica. However, the Endurance ran into some sea-ice and sank in the Weddell Sea, part of the Antarctic coastline. The ship’s crew had to make a daring and dangerous escape using small boats, and some even on foot.

The Search for Endurance

GettyImages-500471183 Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, caught in the ice of the Weddell Sea,

Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, caught in the ice of the Weddell Sea (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The search for the Endurance was not easy since the Weddell Sea is covered in thick sea-ice, the type that punctured the ship and caused it to sink in the first place. However, for the first time since the 1970s (when satellite recording of the area began), the Antarctic had a low amount of sea-ice, making it easier to dig through.

The research crew was extremely pleased and excited when they found the shipwreck because the Endurance was in remarkably good condition. “Without any exaggeration this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen – by far,” Mensun Bound, a marine archaeologist with the expedition, said. The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust headed the discovery quest and used a South African icebreaker called Agulhas II, which had remote-operated submersibles.

In fact, the ship was in such good shape it looked much like it had when it was photographed the last time in 1915. Of course, there is some damage. The rigging is tangled and the masts are down, but the hull for the most part survived. There is also damage at the bow where it is suspected the ship struck the seabed when it sank. The anchors are still in place, and the research crew also saw some crockery and boots. Because it is considered a historical site, the contents of the ship were not brought to shore.

Bound described the condition of the ship:

“You can even see the ship’s name – E N D U R A N C E – arced across the stern directly below the taffrail (a handrail near the stern). And beneath, as bold as brass, is Polaris, the five-pointed star, after which the ship was originally named. I tell you, you would have to be made of stone not to feel a bit squishy at the sight of that star and the name above.”

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Sir Ernest Shackleton, circa 1900s. From Shipping Wonders of the World, Vol. 1. (Photo by The Print Collector/Getty Images)

Bound also said a porthole that is Shackleton’s cabin was visible too. “At that moment, you really do feel the breath of the great man upon the back of your neck,” he added.

Although the ship and its treasures can not yet be brought above water, there is still a lot of work to be done. The research team will likely spend months cataloging their find.

Who Was Shackleton?

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was an English/Irish explorer, and one of the first to try exploring Antarctica. He was part of three British expeditions to the ice continent. The first was the Discovery expedition (1901-1904), and then he led the Nimrod expedition (1907-1909). During Nimrod, Shackleton and a sled team trekked toward the South Pole and got closer than anyone had before (though it was Norwegian Roald Amundsen who soon after became the first person to successfully reach the South Pole). Upon his return to Britain, Shackleton was knighted for his contribution to exploration.

In 1914, he and his crew set off on the ship Endurance with a mission to cross the continent of Antarctica from coast to coast, passing through the South Pole on the way. The expedition failed when the ship sank, but it wasn’t the last time Shackleton took a trip to the icy south. In 1921, he embarked on the Quest expedition to circumnavigate Antarctica, but after problems with the ship he was forced to turn back, and died of a heart attack while moored on the island of South Georgia in the south Atlantic Ocean.

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