Shackleton’s Christmas in Antarctica

Published On: December 21, 2020Categories: Crisis Management, Risk Assessment, Travel Risk

More than a century ago, the crew of Endurance were busy attempting to escape their prison in the Southern Ocean. With their ship trapped, crushed and sunk by the Antarctic ice, they were forced onto the ice, taking only what they could carry with them.

In his memoir, expedition leader Ernest Shackleton recorded that, ‘high temperatures, combined with the strong changeable winds that we had had of late, led me to conclude that the ice all around us was rotting and breaking up, and that the moment of our deliverance from the icy maw of the Antarctic was at hand’.


Shackleton announced to his crew his intentions to march west, over the ice, to close the gap between themselves and their destination, the remote Paulet Island at the far end of the Antarctic Peninsula. This involved dragging their three lifeboats, the James Caird, Stancomb Wills and Dudley Docker, across the ice until they reached open water.

Shackleton recalls, ‘December 22 was kept as Christmas Day, and most of our small remaining stock of luxuries was consumed at the Christmas feast. We could not carry it all with us, so for the last time for eight months we had a really good meal – as much as we could eat. Anchovies in oil, baked beans, and jugged hare made a glorious mixture such as we have not dreamed of since our schooldays. Everybody was working at high pressure, packing and repacking sledges and stowing what provisions we were going to take with us in the various sacks and boxes.’


[Image Courtesy of the Royal Geographical Society]

Another of the expedition team wrote, “It’s a hard, rough, jolly life, this marching and camping; no washing of self or dishes, no undressing, no changing of clothes. We have our food anyhow, and always impregnated with blubber-smoke; sleeping almost on the bare snow and working as hard as the human physique is capable of doing on a minimum of food.”

Read more about the survival story here.

The incredible Nimrod expedition would have required quite a risk assessment in today’s world, yet provides great lessons in decision-making and ensuring the safety (or survival) of one’s team.

Whatever the expedition, project or story you are planning in the year ahead, we wish you and your loved ones an enjoyable holiday season and a very Happy New Year.

The RiskPal Team.

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