Magazine

What books were taken to the Antarctic 100 years ago?

  • 24 February 2016
  • From the section Magazine
Bookshelves in Shackleton's cabin on Endurance, 1915 Image copyright RGS-IBG

When Sir Ernest Shackleton set off for Antarctica on his ship Endurance, he made sure he had plenty of reading material. But details of precisely what books he took have remained hidden in this photograph - until now.

The image from the ill-fated South Pole expedition - taken in early March 1915 by Australian photographer Frank Hurley - has been digitised by the Royal Geographical Society in London.

It is now known that the explorer carried with him dictionaries, encyclopedias and books chronicling other dangerous polar expeditions.

He took established works by Dostoyevsky and Shelley - but also, explains Alasdair MacLeod from the RGS, "newly published fiction by popular authors of the time".

"The cabin wall on the left also shows a framed print of Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If', which Shackleton carried with him on to the ice floe when the ship sank."

In January 1915, Endurance and her 28-man crew became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea. Shackleton and his men would remain there for 10 months - until the ship sank and they moved on to the ice. In April 1916, in three small boats taken off Endurance, the crew left the ice and began an arduous voyage to uninhabited Elephant Island. From there, Shackleton took a small group with him to South Georgia - 750 miles away - where they finally got help.

All members of Endurance's crew survived.

Scroll down to see the full list of books identified by experts at the RGS - and see more stark images of Shackleton's struggle for survival.

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Books on Shackleton's bookshelf:

  • Encyclopedia Britannica
  • Seven short plays by Lady Gregory
  • Perch of the devil by Getrude Atherton
  • Pip by Ian Hey
  • Plays: pleasant and unpleasant, Vol 2 Pleasant by G B Shaw
  • Almayer's folly by Joseph Conrad
  • Dr Brewer's readers handbook
  • The Brassbounder by David Bone
  • The case of Miss Elliott by Emmuska Orczy
  • Raffles by EW Hornung
  • The Grand Babylon Hotel by Arnold Bennett
  • Pros and cons: a newspaper reader's and debater's guide to the leading controversies of the day by JB Askew
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Woman's view by Herbert Flowerdew
  • Thou Fool by JJ Bell
  • The Message of Fate by Louis Tracy
  • The Barrier by Rex Beach
  • Manual of English Grammar and Composition by Nesfield
  • A book of light verse
  • Oddsfish by Robert Hugh Benson
  • Poetical works of Shelley
  • Monsieur de Rochefort by H De Vere Stacpoole
  • Voyage of the Vega by Nordenskjold
  • The threshold of the unknown region by Clements Markham
  • Cassell's book of quotations by W Gurney Benham
  • The concise Oxford dictionary
  • Chambers biographical dictionary
  • Cassell's new German-English English-German dictionary
  • Chambers 20th Century dictionary
  • The northwest passage by Roald Amundsen
  • The voyage of the Fox in Arctic seas by McClintock
  • Whitaker's almanac
  • World's end by Amelie Rives
  • Potash and perlmutter by Montague Glass
  • Round the horn before the mast by A Basil Lubbock
  • The witness for the defence by AEW Mason
  • Five years of my life by Alfred Dreyfuss
  • The morals of Marcus Ordeyne by William J Locke
  • The rescue of Greely by Commander Winfield Scott Schley
  • United States Grinnell Expedition by Dr Kane
  • Three years of Arctic service by Greely
  • Voyage to the Polar Sea by Nares
  • Journal of HMS Enterprise by Collinson

Photo digitisation process completed with help from Picturae.

Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley can be seen at the RGS in London until Sunday 28 February 2016.

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