On 20 September, 1924, Albert Ernest Holness died when he was washed overboard and lost at sea whilst serving on the trawler Lord Lonsdale off the Faroe Islands, Scotland.
Born in Hull on 7 December, 1892, Ernie Holness assisted in the operation of the engines of the Endurance during Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
On the night of 9 April, 1916, the men were camping a ice floe after a day of rowing in the three lifeboats. When this floe split in two, Holness fell into the crack. He was unable to help himself as he was caught up in his sleeping bag. As Hurley wrote:
The crack passed beneath the tent occupied by the sailors, and so quickly did it draw apart that before the men could escape one fell through into the sea.
Shackleton was nearby and with one great heave pulled Holness, sleeping bag and all, out of the water. Only seconds later the floes crashed back together again. Holness’s life had been saved by the Boss. In South!, Shackleton wrote:
The crack had widened to about four feet, and as I threw myself down at the edge, I saw a whitish object floating in the water. It was a sleeping-bag with a man inside. I was able to grasp it, and with a heave lifted man and bag on to the floe. A few seconds later the ice-edges came together again with tremendous force. Fortunately, there had been but one man in the water, or the incident might have been a tragedy. The rescued bag contained Holness, who was wet down to the waist but otherwise unscathed.
Despite being soaked but alive, Holness was still very concerned that he had lost his tobacco. As Worsley wrote:
Having saved the man from a dreadful death by only a barest fraction of time, Shackleton turned his attention to the rest of the party. The rescued man began to rummage in his sleeping-bag, and presently was heard to mutter, ‘Lost my b___y tin of tobacco.’ Said one of the others to him, ‘You might have thanked Sir Ernest for saving your life.’ ‘Yes,’ he replied the dripping sailor; ‘but thanking him won’t bring back my tobacco.’
Shackleton insisted that Holness keep walking until his body heat warmed him up and dried off his clothing.
After the expedition, Holness returned to England. He married Lillian Rose Bettles, a Hull woman, on 12 June, 1917. They settled in Hull where Ernie returned to work on the North Sea trawlers. The couple had two daughters and one son.
Hurley, F. Argonauts of the South. London, New York: 1925.
Shackleton, Sir E. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914–1917. London, 1919.
Smith, M. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer. Cork, 2014.
Worsley, F. A. Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure. London, 1931.