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SPRI celebrates the centenary of Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909

21 October – 4 April 2009Nimrod poster
See: Opening times for the exhibition and the Museum

Ernest Shackleton announced plans for a scientific expedition to the Antarctic with the aims of reaching both the South Pole and the South Magnetic Pole - the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-1909.

Departing on the expedition ship Nimrod in 1907, a shore party of 15 set up base on Ross Island in February 1908; they were to discover nearly 500km of the Trans-Antarctic Mountains flanking the Ross Ice Shelf. A party also made the first ascent of the volcano Mount Erebus (3794m) on Ross Island.

In October 1908, the main polar party, consisting of Shackleton, Eric Marshall, Frank Wild and Jameson Adams, set out from their winter quarters at Cape Royds to make an attempt on the South Pole. Crossing the Ross Ice Shelf and discovering a way through the mountains by means of the Beardmore Glacier, they man-hauled across the polar plateau, reaching 88º 26' South on 9 January 1909. Shackleton correctly calculated that if they carried on and reached the Pole, they would almost certainly die of starvation during the return journey and so they made the brave decision to turn for home. On his return to England Shackleton famously remarked to his wife that he thought she would prefer 'a live donkey than a dead lion'.

A second party comprising Professor Edgeworth David, Alexander Forbes Mackay and Douglas Mawson reached the South Magnetic Pole on 16 January 1909, when they raised the flag and claimed the area for King Edward VII. Using neither dogs or ponies, the men man hauled their sledges for the entire journey.

The men returned to a hero's welcome and, one hundred years on, the Scott Polar Research Institute is marking the centenary by placing expedition diaries and other material on public display. Shackleton's handwritten diary of the attempt on the South Pole will be updated weekly, so visitors will be able to rediscover the men's journey.