Part I - Abandoning Ship

Margot: Since we find ourselves in the throes of a calamity, let's take a look at the day Shackleton's crew had to abandon their sinking home.


The crisis wasn't an entirely unexpected but when it happened it was sudden.


Key passages are highlighted below...


Orde-Lees' Journal

October 27, 1915


Things have taken a terribly serious turn - our worst fears are realized, not that we are in any way downhearted, for whilst there's life, there's hope.


Hitherto I have written of pressure as a sort of abstract manifestation of ice movement - even criticising it, often flippantly.


We have seen so much around us and our stout little craft has out ridden so many of these glacial convulsions that we had become over-confident of her invulnerability.


To have her literally torn asunder beneath our feet as she has been today has come as a rude shock which the consequent discomforts will do little to mitigate.


The ice around the ship had been working all day; the ship merely forming a portion, as it were, of an immense pressure ridge. It is part & parcel of it. If the ship were not where it is the space occupied by it would be filled with great blocks of crumpled floe ice. As it is, this very ice is straining all the while to oust the ship & occupy its place whilst the ship, crushed laterally to the utmost limit of compression, resists the onslaught valiantly and , by intermittent rising, deflects the great rugged edges of the impinging floes so that they either pass noisily underneath her, lifting her a good deal in so doing, or else they bend upward & snap off in huge slab-like blocks six or seven feet thick and weighing as many tons.


In this latter case the blocks are often pushed high up the ship's side before they finally topple over backwards on to the oncoming ice and they nearly always cause the ship to list over to one side or the other.


Pressure had been going on spasmodically all day.


The carpenter was working hard at the cofferdam and pumping employed all hands. We were only just able to keep pace with the leakage. Down aft one could hear the ominous sound of the in-rushing water.


Our little ship was stove in, hopelessly crushed & helpless amongst the engulfing ice.


Nothing that we could do for her was any more good and as before our eyes she commenced to settle down first by the bows then by the stern, we bade her good bye with our hearts. Having accomplished its deadly mission the ice seemed then to play with her like a cat with a mouse, now hoisting her a little now letting her subside once more and as if to having wrested from us our stronghold dangled it before us, as it were, in mocking irony.


The forces of nature had made their counter attack and had driven us out from our position but thoughts of surrender never entered our heads.


Our immediate action lay in making preparations for a safe retirement.


The only question was not what was the best thing to be done but what was the next best thing to be done.


To few is it vouchsafed to see so impressive a sight. Confident as we were of the future such a calamity could not fail to evoke some emotion in the stoutest heart. Even Wild as courageous a man as there is amongst us admitted that it gave him a pain in the stomach to behold it.


For the first time we realized that we were face to face with as serious a one of the gravest disasters that can befall a polar expedition, beside which mere besetment is a bagatelle.


For the first time it came home to us that we were wrecked - that we had abandoned our ship; but we were not beaten. Britishers do not suffer defeat so easily as that.


At one time we expected every minute to see the last of her but strange to say she did not sink.


After settling down so far as to flood all her holds she remained fixed in the ice, well down but by no means entirely submerged.


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© 2019 Margot Morrell

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