James Francis Hurley photographs reveal Ernest Shackleton's heroic Antarctic journey

By Ben Miller | 10 August 2010
A photo of a distant shadow walking across snow and ice on an Antarctic coast

(Above) Icescape (January 14 1915)

Exhibition: Endurance: Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool, until January 3 2011

Sent on tour by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, this is the first time photographer James Francis Hurley’s pictures of death-defying explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton’s journey to the Antarctic have been seen in Britain.

Among more than 150 images, many show Shackleton’s ship, Endurance, as it was trapped and eventually crushed in ice. We also see sledge dogs at work and play, life onboard the voyage, the 28-man team’s crossing of South Georgia Island and their eventual rescue.

A black and white photo of a tall sailing ship on Antarctic snow

The Return of the Sun

Leaving Britain within days of the onset of the First World War, Shackleton and his crew set off in the 350-ton sail and steam-powered juggernaut in August 1914.

A green-hued photo of a man taking photos from a camera stand on an icy landscape

Hurley With Camera

Having hit the ice-floe the following January, the three-master ship suffered an agonising demise. During the ten months it took to fully sink, Shackleton and his men used Endurance as a winter base, only abandoning it for their makeshift ice camp when water started gushing in.

A black and white photo of sailors waiving goodbye to a ship on a coast

The Departure of the James Caird From Elephant Island /
The Rescue

They spent five “traumatic” days at sea in lifeboats saved from the wreckage, experiencing solid ground for the first time in 18 months when they landed on the desolate Elephant Island.

A black and white photo of a tall sailing ship on an icy Antarctic coast

Endurance Beset,
Full Sail

Shackleton risked everything by taking the strongest lifeboat on a daring five-man rescue mission to distant South Georgia, taking 15 days to find help via hurricane-force winds and mountain treks.

Hurley’s negatives and prints survived ices, open seas and burial, with ten coming in colour courtesy of his use of the Paget process, an early 20th century ploy combining colour and black and white plates and allowing light to stream onto the negative print at an early stage, resulting in an emphasis on strong individual hues.

Open 10am – 5pm. Admission free.

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