5 Myths about Sir Ernest Shackleton

The explorer’s life is chronicled in a new book based on personal diaries and more.

November 17, 2014

Shackleton Book

Oneworld Publications has just released Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer, a new book about the legendary explorer based on research of personal diaries, letters and more.

We asked author Michael Smith to give Yachting readers a sneak peek at newly uncovered information, and he sent us these five myths about Shackleton that his book debunks:

1: Shackleton might have been another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, given that his leadership methods are taught in business schools today. Wrong. Shackleton was a spectacular failure at every business scheme he encountered. He tried gold mining, transporting troops home from wars and stamp collecting — all ending in disarray. He left a trail of unpaid debts totaling more than $1 million in modern dollars. During the brief times he held steady jobs, he did not bother to collect his wages. If he did receive money, he gave it to charities and hospitals.


2: Shackleton never lost a man. Wrong again. Three men died on his 1916 Imperial TransArctic Expedition. ITAE was a two-pronged attempt at being the first coast-to-coast crossing of Antarctica. The Endurance prong, with Shackleton in command, ended with the ship crushed by ice and Shackleton leading all 28 of those men safely home. But a separate group on the other side of the continent was laying a chain of supply depots for Shackleton’s team, and 10 of those men were stranded when their ship blew out to sea. Three of them, including a newly ordained priest, died.

3: To attract men for an Antarctic expedition, Shackleton advertised in The Times of London: “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in the event of success.” In truth, the advertisement has never been found — and almost certainly was never placed.

4: Shackleton was a robust and healthy man, which is how he overcame the extreme rigors of Antarctic exploration. He was actually a physical wreck, suffering from severe heart and lung problems. He feared doctors and never allowed close examinations.


5: His first discovery ranks alongside those of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Capt. James Cook, and Lewis and Clark. Unlike the other historic figures, Shackleton’s first discovery was not a new ocean, a mighty glacier or a range of mountains. It was instead a primitive green and orange lichen he found on Antarctica in 1902.

To purchase a copy of Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer, visit or your favorite bookseller.


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