Sir Ernest Shackleton Biography

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, a renowned polar explorer, played a significant role during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. With a background in the merchant navy and a passion for polar exploration, Shackleton participated in three expeditions to the Antarctic. While leading his own expeditions on the ships ‘Nimrod’ and ‘Endurance’, Shackleton faced a harrowing ordeal when his ship became trapped in ice and eventually sank. Despite the dire circumstances, Shackleton’s leadership and determination led to the successful rescue of his crew, earning him the title of a true hero. His remarkable survival story and exceptional crisis management skills have made him an inspirational figure and a role model for leadership.

Quick Facts

  • British Celebrities Born In February
  • Also Known As: Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
  • Died At Age: 47
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Emily Mary Dorman
    • Father: Henry Shackleton
    • Mother: Henrietta Letitia Sophia Gavan
    • Siblings: Frank Shackleton
    • Children: Cecily Shackleton, Edward Shackleton, Raymond Shackleton
  • Born Country: Ireland
  • Explorers
  • British Men
  • Died on: January 5, 1922
  • Place of Death: South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • Cause of Death: Atheroma

Childhood & Early Life

Ernest Shackleton was born on 15 February 1874 in Kilkea, County Kildare, Ireland, to Henry Shackleton and Henrietta Letitia Sophia Gavan. He was the second of ten children. In 1880, when Ernest was six, his father decided to study medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, and moved the family into the city. Four years later, they shifted to Sydenham in suburban London. Ernest was schooled by a governess until the age of eleven and then attended Fir Lodge Preparatory School in Dulwich, London. At the age of thirteen, he entered Dulwich College.


Restless and bored of studies, Shackleton decided to go to sea. His father secured him a berth with the North Western Shipping Company, aboard the square-rigged sailing ship, Hoghton Tower. In 1898, he became a certified Master Mariner and joined the Union-Castle Line. He later transferred to the Tintagel Castle because of the Boer War. In 1900, he was introduced to Llewellyn W. Longstaff, the main financial backer of the National Antarctic Expedition. Longstaff recommended him to Sir Clements Markham, the expedition’s overlord. Shackleton was appointed third officer to the expedition’s ship Discovery in 1901 and commissioned into the Royal Navy. The Discovery Expedition, led by Robert Falcon Scott, departed London on 31st July 1901 and arrived at the Antarctic coast on 8th January 1902. Shackleton accompanied Scott and Wilson on the expedition’s journey to achieve the highest possible latitude in the direction of the South Pole, setting a record of Farthest South latitude of 82° 17′. However, the march back to the ship was difficult, and Shackleton was unable to carry out his responsibilities. He returned to England on the relief ship.

On his return, Shackleton attempted to secure a regular commission in the Royal Navy but was unsuccessful. He became a journalist, working for the Royal Magazine, but found it uninteresting. He also accepted the secretaryship of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society and stood as a liberal candidate in the General Election.

In February 1907, Shackleton presented his plans for a British Antarctic expedition to the Royal Geographic Society. The aim was to conquer both the geographical South Pole and the South Magnetic Pole. He persuaded wealthy friends to contribute towards the expedition, which was named the Nimrod expedition. The Nimrod sailed for the Antarctic in January 1908 and established a base at Cape Royds. In 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first person to set foot on the South Pole. Shackleton then set his sights on crossing Antarctica via the South Pole.

In 1914, Shackleton departed on the ship Endurance to the South Pole. However, the ship became trapped in ice, forcing Shackleton and his crew to abandon it. They set up camp on the floating ice and hoped it would drift towards Paulet Island, where they could access cached provisions. When this did not happen, they decided to head for Elephant Island on their lifeboats. After five days at sea, they landed at Elephant Island, 346 miles from where the Endurance sank. Shackleton then returned to Elephant Island in 1916 to rescue the remaining members of his crew. None of his team died during the nearly two years they were stranded.

Awards & Achievements

Shackleton received the Polar Medal with clasps and was honored with a knighthood in 1909. He was made the Commander of the Royal Victorian Order and the Officer of the Order of the British Empire. He was also decorated by foreign countries and received numerous silver and gold medals from Cities and Geographical Societies around the world.

Personal Life & Legacy

Shackleton married Emily Mary Dorman in 1904, and they had three children. However, he was known to be a womanizer and not a good husband or father. On his fourth trip to Antarctica, Shackleton died from Coronary Thrombosis on 5 January 1922. He was buried in the Grytviken cemetery, South Georgia.


One of the halls of residence for Merchant Navy Officer Cadets at Warsash Maritime Academy is named after Shackleton. The 137th anniversary of his birth was celebrated with a Google Doodle, and a biscuit he gave to a starving fellow explorer was auctioned by Christie’s.

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