Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton CVO on ‘The Antarctic’

From Whitefriars Journal, vol. III, no. 12, February 1910, pp. 191-93.

The Autumn Session opened auspiciously on Friday, October 1st, when some 250 members and guests assembled at De Keyser’s Royal Hotel to do honour to Lieutenant Sir E. H. Shackleton, CVO. Friar Sir W. P. Treloar, Bart, was the Prior, and the subject of conversation was ‘The Antarctic’. In proposing the health of the Club guest, the Prior made a racy speech, and Lieutenant Shackleton was toasted with musical honours.

Lieutenant Shackleton said that since his return to civilisation he had met many . reporters from diiferent parts of the Empire, and whenever he had asked them not to mention facts which made good copy for his forthcoming book, they had never given him away. (Applause.) He might himself claim to be a journalist, since he was with Messrs. Pearson for four months and had a room, to himself, with a roll-top desk in it. (Laughter.) The only thing he produced there was a poem, having been told by his editor to write a poem to fit the photograph of a sulky-looking little girl. (Laughter.) Not knowing whose little girl she might be, he did his very best, and the verses were approved of by the editor. (Laughter.)

It was fitting that the dinner that evening should take place at De Keyser’s Hotel, because his old ship, the Nimrod, was lying in the Thames close by. In two days more than 6,000 people had visited that vessel, and the proceeds were to be devoted to charity. (Applause.) The least they could do, he and his crew felt, was to help those who were hungry. Down in the Antarctic they knew what it was to feel really hungry – an experience which could not be fully appreciated by the members of the Whitefriars Club. Captain Cook, when he ventured South, thought that no one would be able to get further. But the united expeditions of different countries had proved that it was possible to penetrate a considerable distance beyond Cook’s impossible barrier. Lieutenant Shackleton then proceeded to give a résumé of endeavours in recent times to reach the South Pole. In his expedition they had three doctors, but nevertheless all hands returned safely. (Laughter.) The theodolite was the best instrument for discovering the locality. At the South Pole, there was an advantage over the North, of having firm land. As Captain Jackson in the Arctic regions had used ponies, he, Lieutenant Shackleton, had adopted the idea with great advantage. Dogs did not do much in the Antarctic, except increase their numbers; they had brought home in their expedition almost as many puppies as they had taken out dogs. And then, as regards food, one could not eat dog, but a pony two years old was better than no pony at all. (Laughter.)

Reference had been made to his book, but he had not attempted in it to call the sky ‘the jewelled canopy of heaven’. (Laughter.) When he cabled home, a weekly paper issued a chart which, with the exception of one small curve, was quite accurate as regards the route he had taken. That showed how excellent were the deductions made by a newspaper staff of the present day. (Applause.) It was quite likely that the Union Jack would fly from the South Pole under Captain Scott, along the route which had to a great extent already been pioneered. People, however, thought no less of his expedition because he had not reached the South Pole. Success was not to be achieved all at once. It should be remembered that they had no servants with them. Each one had to do menial work, and before their professors began their scientific labours they had to scrub out the pots and pans, and so forth. Apart from his book, there were more than forty scientific memoirs being published regarding the expedition. (Applause.) Once the South Pole was warm, for coal and fossil pinewood had been discovered. It was only by visiting the Antarctic that one could make such discoveries, and surely such facts were of interest to mankind. (Prolonged applause.)

Friar Sir Francis Carruthers Gould said he knew nothing of geodetic science. His first impression of the shape of the world was biblical, for did it not say in the Great Book that there were ‘four corners to the earth’? When, as a child, he had been told that the earth resembled an orange, he was mystified. Explorers who found out facts were iconoclasts, because they destroyed our mysteries. The North Pole of late had become merely a peg for a newspaper controversy. Lieutenant Shackleton was a worthy member of the gallant band of explorers, and he moved a vote of thanks to their of the evening for his admirable address.

This was seconded by Friar Spurgeon, and Captain Jackson then spoke. He was followed by Dr Scott Keltie (of the Royal Geographical Society) and Mr L. D. Bernacchi. Lieutenant Shackleton briefly responded.