ON THIS DATE IN 1879: BIRTH OF MACKINTOSH
Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh, British Merchant Navy officer and Antarctic explorer, was born 1 July, 1879 in Tirhoot, India, son of Alexander and Annie Mackintosh. Though they were comfortable in the Raj, Annie left her husband and returned to Bedfordshire in 1891 with her six children Aeneas, Isobel, George, Alexander, Berkeley and Eric.
Aeneas joined the mercantile navy as a teen and rose through the ranks of the P&O. He had passed the master’s examination was third officer in the summer of 1907. It was at that point that Shackleton asked Mackintosh to be second officer with the Nimrod expedition.
From Shackleton’s Heart of the Antarctic:
Mackintosh came from the service of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. He was transferred to the shore-party at a later date, but an unfortunate accident finally prevented his remaining in the Antarctic with us.
The accident was that a loading hook struck Mackintosh in the right eye and had to be removed by the surgeon Eric Marshall.
From Marshall’s diary:
‘…examined him and found what appeared to be a portion of retina protruding through eye. [Ernest] Joyce tells me that when he fell he saw lens lying on his cheek. Kept him under, 1st atropine and cocaine, until 2.30, when assisted by [Alister Forbes] Mackay and [ship surgeon Rupert] Michell we gave him chloroform, with leave to act as we thought right. Found eye collapsed, cornea torn right across centre, lens absent, much of the vitreous humour had escaped and retina torn. We unanimously decided to excise eye. Operation was successfully performed although circumstances adverse owing to lack of space, appliances etc.’
The surgery was conducted by the light of one oil lamp, with Mackintosh on the floor of the cabin and the medical staff kneeling over him. He returned to Sydney to receive special treatment for his eye and returned to Antarctica for the next season. Though this eliminated him from being chosen for the polar team, he remained part of the support team of the expedition and impressed Shackleton with his devotion to duty and strong will.
Mackintosh’s commission (1 July, 1908) in the Royal Naval Reserve from Probationary Sub-Lieutenant to Sub-Lieutenant was confirmed in 1910.
In 1911, Douglas Mawson went to Nagybánya (Hungarian name)/ Baia Maretook (Romanian name) in Hungary (now in Romania) for a geological survey project as part of Shackleton’s idea of a get-rich-quick, gold-mining investment. Shackleton sent along Mackintosh and John King Davis along as assistants. Mackintosh then spent three months of 1911 on the Cocos Islands in the South Pacific in search of Spanish treasure.
Mackintosh was later appointed Commander the Ross Sea party as part of Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–1917, and Captain of Aurora (Stenhouse was de facto Captain when Mackintosh alighted in Antarctica). He was faced with difficulties in organisation, funding, management, leadership and, of course, being stranded on the Antarctic continent after Aurora was carried away by the power of the ice. He was promised £1,000 to fit out Aurora in Australia and even this money wasn’t forthcoming. Mackintosh was very aware of his responsibilities and fretted over his expenditure. He cabled to expedition offices in London saying ‘money I must have’ as he knew that ‘the lives of men [are] on my hands’. Despite the difficulties, hardships, inadequate provisions and equipment, the ten men of the stranded party laid the depots exactly as they were meant to do for the use of the transcontinental party from Endurance.
Mackintosh and Victor Hayward left Hut Point with the intent of returning to Cape Evans on 8 May, 1916. They were never seen again.
Shackleton gave a lecture in New Zealand on 7 March, 1917, following the return of the relief expedition to raise funds for Mackintosh’s widow—half went to the local Red Cross Fund in Christchurch and half went to support Gladys Mackintosh.
On his return to England in 1917, Joseph Stenhouse made contact with Mackintosh’s widow, Gladys, to give her the letters of her late husband. His death was a tough blow for Gladys, particularly with two young children, but she met her circumstances with resoluteness. Stenhouse and Gladys married on 2 October, 1923.
Most of the above is taken from the following, wonderful book:
Tyler-Lewis, K. The Lost Men: The Harrowing Story of Shackleton’s Ross Sea Party. London, 2006.
The Press (Christchurch), 7 September, 1908.
The London Gazette, 9 September, 1910.
Daily Mail (Brisbane), 8 February, 1917.
The Evening Post (Wellington, NZ), 5 March, 1917
The Otago Daily Times (Dunedin), 2 October 1923
R. Guly, ‘Surgery and anaesthesia during the heroic age of Antarctic exploration (1895-1922)’, British Medical Journal, 17 December, 2013.
Scott-Fawcett, ‘The Ross Sea Party – Debacle or Miracle?’, The James Caird Society Journal No. 9 (2018), pp. 7-22.
E. H. Shackleton, The Heart of the Antarctic: Being the Story of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 (Philadelphia, 1909), Vol. I., pp. 28, 88; Vol. II, p. 427.
R. Huntford, Shackleton (London, 2000), pp. 324-325, 643.
M. Smith, Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer (Cork, 2014), pp. 238, 278.
S. Haddelsey, Ice Captain: The Life of J. R. Stenhouse (Stroud, 2008), pp. 25-28, 135-136, 176.
‘Mackintosh, Aeneas Lionel Acton’, Shackleton Online, Scott Polar Research Institute: https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/shackleton/biographies/Mackintosh,_Aeneas_Lionel_Acton/