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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Antarctic Explorer Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic, dies of a heart attack in Grytviken, South Georgia on January 5, 1922. He is one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

Born in Kilkea, County Kildare, Shackleton and his Anglo-Irish family move to Sydenham, London when he is ten. His first experience of the polar regions is as third officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s Discovery Expedition of 1901–04, from which he is sent home early on health grounds, after he and his companions Scott and Edward Adrian Wilson set a new southern record by marching to latitude 82°S. During the Nimrod Expedition of 1907–09, he and three companions establish a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 97 geographical miles from the South Pole, the largest advance to the pole in exploration history. Also, members of his team climb Mount Erebus, the most active Antarctic volcano. For these achievements, he is knighted by King Edward VII on his return home.

After the race to the South Pole ends in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen‘s conquest, Shackleton turns his attention to the crossing of Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole. To this end, he makes preparations for what becomes the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. Disaster strikes this expedition when its ship, Endurance, becomes trapped in pack ice and is slowly crushed before the shore parties can be landed. The crew escapes by camping on the sea ice until it disintegrates, then by launching the lifeboats to reach Elephant Island and ultimately South Georgia Island, a stormy ocean voyage of 720 nautical miles and Shackleton’s most famous exploit.

In 1921, Shackleton returns to the Antarctic with the Shackleton–Rowett Expedition on a 125-ton Norwegian sealer, named Foca I, which he renames Quest. When the party arrives in Rio de Janeiro, he suffers a suspected heart attack. He refuses a proper medical examination, so Quest continues south, and on January 4, 1922, arrives at South Georgia. In the early hours of the next morning, Shackleton summons the expedition’s physician, Alexander Macklin, to his cabin, complaining of back pains and other discomfort. According to Macklin’s own account,he tells Shackleton he has been overdoing things and should try to “lead a more regular life,” to which Shackleton answers, “You are always wanting me to give up things, what is it I ought to give up?” “Chiefly alcohol, Boss,” replies Macklin. A few moments later, at 2:50 AM on January 5, 1922, he suffers a fatal heart attack. At his wife’s request, he is buried there.

Away from his expeditions, Shackleton’s life is generally restless and unfulfilled. In his search for rapid pathways to wealth and security, he launches business ventures which fail to prosper, and he dies heavily in debt. Upon his death, he is lauded in the press but is thereafter largely forgotten, while the heroic reputation of his rival Scott is sustained for many decades. Later in the 20th century, Shackleton is “rediscovered”. He rapidly becomes a role model for leadership as one who, in extreme circumstances, kept his team together in a survival story described by cultural historian Stephanie Barczewski as “incredible.”

In his 1956 address to the British Science Association, Sir Raymond Priestley, one of his contemporaries, says “Scott for scientific method, Amundsen for speed and efficiency but when disaster strikes and all hope is gone, get down on your knees and pray for Shackleton,” paraphrasing what Apsley Cherry-Garrard had written in a preface to his 1922 memoir The Worst Journey in the World. In 2002, Shackleton is voted eleventh in a BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.


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Birth of Philanthropist Vere Foster

Vere Henry Louis Foster, English educationist and philanthropist is born in Copenhagen on April 25, 1819.

Foster is the third son of Sir Augustus John Foster, 1st Baronet and his wife, Albinia Jane, daughter of George Vere Hobart, and granddaughter of George Hobart, 3rd Earl of Buckinghamshire. He is educated at Eton College, and matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, on May 30, 1838.

Leaving Oxford without a degree, Foster joins the diplomatic service. From 1842 to 1843 he is attached to the diplomatic mission of Sir Henry Ellis in Rio de Janeiro, and from 1845 to 1847 to that of Sir William Gore Ouseley in Montevideo.

In 1847 Foster visits a family estate in County Louth, Ireland at the time of the Great Famine, with his eldest brother, Sir Frederick George Foster. They become involved in famine relief. In 1848 their father dies and Foster undergoes a crisis in his life, and he comes to concentrate on philanthropy in Ireland.

Foster makes three voyages to the United States as a steerage passenger in a ship of emigrants, finding the accommodations bad, and the treatment of emigrants exploitative. Through his cousin Vere Hobart, Lord Hobart, he is able to influence parliament and the Passengers Act 1851. He also takes practical steps to promote Irish emigration to the United States.

Later, Foster takes up the improvement of education in Ireland. This is a time of Catholic suspicion of the national education system introduced by Richard Whately. Foster contributes to the provision of better school accommodation and apparatus, and gives grants in aid of building several hundred new school-houses. He agitates for improved wages and conditions for teachers, and develops the “Vere Foster copy-books” to improve and standardise the teaching of writing. The immense popularity of these texts draw him to the Belfast printing firm Marcus Ward & Company, and into personal friendship with John Ward, one of the firm’s owners.

In 1867, Foster settles permanently in Belfast where he continues to work as the president of the Congress of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation. He fundraises for the Royal Belfast Hospital, and helps to establish a school of art in the town, while continuing to promote emigration.

In 1879, with the Land War in Ireland, Foster concentrates on promoting female emigration to the United States and the British colonies. He is supported in his projects by both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

Vere Foster dies, unmarried, in Belfast on December 21, 1900. He is buried in Belfast City Cemetery.