On January 1, 1908, Nimrod sails for the Antarctic from Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand. Shackleton’s original plans had envisaged using the old Discovery Expedition base in McMurdo Sound to launch his attempts on the South Pole and South Magnetic Pole. Before leaving England, he had been pressured to give an undertaking to Captain Robert Falcon Scott that he would not base himself in the McMurdo area, which Scott was claiming as his own field of work. Shackleton reluctantly agrees to look for winter quarters at either the Barrier Inlet, which the Discovery Expedition had briefly visited in 1902, or King Edward VII Land.
To conserve coal, the ship is towed 1,650 miles by the steamer Koonya to the Antarctic ice, after Shackleton had persuaded the New Zealand government and the Union Steamship Company to share the cost. In accordance with Shackleton’s promise to Scott, the ship heads for the eastern sector of the Great Ice Barrier, arriving there on January 21, 1908. They find that the Barrier Inlet has expanded to form a large bay, in which are hundreds of whales, which leads to the immediate christening of the area as the Bay of Whales. It is noted that ice conditions are unstable, precluding the establishment of a safe base there. An extended search for an anchorage at King Edward VII Land proves equally fruitless, so Shackleton is forced to break his undertaking to Scott and set sail for McMurdo Sound, a decision which, according to second officer Arthur Harbord, is “dictated by common sense” in view of the difficulties of ice pressure, coal shortage and the lack of any nearer known base.
Nimrod arrives at McMurdo Sound on January 29, but is stopped by ice 16 miles north of Discovery‘s old base at Hut Point. After considerable weather delays, Shackleton’s base is eventually established at Cape Royds, about 24 miles north of Hut Point. The party is in high spirits, despite the difficult conditions. Shackleton’s ability to communicate with each man keeps the party happy and focused.
The “Great Southern Journey”, as Frank Wild calls it, begins on October 29, 1908. On January 9, 1909, Shackleton and three companions (Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams) reach a new Farthest South latitude of 88° 23′ S, a point only 112 miles from the Pole. En route the South Pole party discovers the Beardmore Glacier, named after Shackleton’s patron Sir William Beardmore, and become the first persons to see and travel on the South Polar Plateau. Their return journey to McMurdo Sound is a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. At one point, Shackleton gives his one biscuit allotted for the day to the ailing Frank Wild, who writes in his diary, “All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me.” They arrive at Hut Point just in time to catch the ship.
The expedition’s other main accomplishments include the first ascent of Mount Erebus, and the discovery of the approximate location of the South Magnetic Pole, reached on January 16, 1909 by Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Alistair Mackay. Shackleton returns to the United Kingdom as a hero, and soon afterwards publishes his expedition account, Heart of the Antarctic.
In 1910, Shackleton makes a series of three recordings describing the expedition using an Edison Phonograph.
Several mostly intact cases of whisky and brandy left behind in 1909 are recovered in 2010 for analysis by a distilling company. A revival of the vintage (and since lost) formula for the particular brands found has been offered for sale with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) which discovered the lost spirits.
(Pictured: Nimrod Expedition South Pole Party (left to right): Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams)