Shackleton's ship found a century after leaving Plymouth

The stern of the Endurance with the name and emblematic polestar

The stern of the Endurance with the name and emblematic polestar - Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

106 years after it was abandoned, the Endurance has been found under the Antarctic ice and the photos are truly haunting.

In a truly remarkable statement today, The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust were pleased to announce that their expedition, Endurance22, had found the wreckage of the legendary three-masted barquentine Endurance. In remarkable shape, given its location, the first images of the ship that carried Ernest Shackleton's crew on their doomed expedition give us an insight into one of the last voyages of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. Though they could never have known it when they named the ship, it would become part of an incredible tale of survival at all costs on the brutal ice of Antarctica. 

The 1914 Expedition

In August 1914, the Endurance set sail from Plymouth Harbour and began the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Their goal: to make the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent. The mission was conceived of and headed by Ernest Shackleton, a legendary polar explorer who had already been knighted by King Edward VII for his previous adventures. The crew consisted of a mix of men from as far as Australia, a cat, and even a stowaway! 

Progress was slow as the Endurance was forced to break up ice as it travelled further into the Antarctic on the Weddell Sea. But in February 1915, disaster lurked. The ship had become encased in the pack ice and was now drifting with the current below. No manner of picks, shovels, or saws could break her free and it looked increasingly likely that the crew would have to spend a winter at the mercy of the ice until it thawed enough to move on. 

Taffrail and ship's wheel

Taffrail and ship's wheel - Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

For almost six months, Shackleton and his men attempted to keep up their morale, exercising and even dog-sled racing occasionally to pass the time. They made it through the worst of the winter, where the sun never rose, with no casualties and the ship still intact.

Whilst the first signs of the thaw should have brought celebration, a greater threat was looming. As the ice began to break up, it was putting pressure on the ship and slowly crushing the Endurance. Eventually a decision had to be made and the Endurance was abandoned on October 27th, 1915.

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For many, this would have seemed like a death sentence, with nothing but cruel ice for hundreds of miles. Shackleton and his 28 men began the gruelling sail on two lifeboats to Elephant Island, before Shackleton and five others continued on to a whaling station at Stromness, another 800 miles away. The rescue team went back for the rest of the crew and shockingly found them all alive, more than three months after they had been left behind. The story became one of the last great ice adventures of the early 20th century, thanks to the fortitude of the crew and leadership of Shackleton throughout.

It was presumed that the Endurance, crushed beyond repair, eventually sank under the ice, never to be seen again... Until today.

Starboard bow

Starboard bow - Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and National Geographic

Endurance22

One hundred years after Shackleton’s death, Endurance was found at a depth of 3008 metres in the Weddell Sea, within the search area mapped by the expedition team before its departure from Cape Town. It was also about four miles south of the position originally recorded by Captain Worsley back in 1915.

The S.A. Agulhas II that carried the Endurance22 expedition

The S.A. Agulhas II that carried the Endurance22 expedition - Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and James Blake

Taking part in the expedition were scientists from a variety of world leading research and educational institutions. Whilst the goal was to find the wreck, there was plenty of other research going on to learn more about climate change and the Antarctic environment. 

Mensun Bound, Director of Exploration on the expedition, said: 

“We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance. This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see 'Endurance' arced across the stern, directly below the taffrail.  

"This is a milestone in polar history.  However, it is not all about the past; we are bringing the story of Shackleton and Endurance to new audiences, and to the next generation, who will be entrusted with the essential safeguarding of our polar regions and our planet. We hope our discovery will engage young people and inspire them with the pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed Endurance to Antarctica.  

"We pay tribute to the navigational skills of Captain Frank Worsley, the Captain of the Endurance, whose detailed records were invaluable in our quest to locate the wreck.  I would like to thank my colleagues of The Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust for enabling this extraordinary expedition to take place, as well as Saab for their technology, and the whole team of dedicated experts who have been involved in this monumental discovery.”

A group of penguins watch on from the ice

The locals were also interested in the find - Credit: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust and Nick Birtwistle

The Endurance wreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that whilst the wreck is being surveyed and filmed it will not be touched or disturbed in any way. A documentary is in production that will detail the entire story of how they came to find the Endurance. It will premiere in Autumn on National Geographic, before moving to Disney+.