Sir Ernest in Dublin: Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Dublin Nimrod lecture
in aid of Lady Dudley’s district nurses, 14 December, 1909.
Almost immediately after the British Antarctic Expedition (the Nimrod expedition), Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton was a famous man, ‘a full-blown celebrity’ as Michael Smith has written. On 25 March, 1909, the Nimrod arrived at the post of Lyttelton, New Zealand, and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds and a waiting telegram from the King in London. Shackleton made use of time in New Zealand and Australia and gave many well-attended lectures and events.
Shackleton’s return to London on 14 June, 1909, was a display of pride, showmanship and fame. A grand welcoming reception was held in the Royal Albert Hall on 28 June and on 12 July Ernest and Emily attended the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace by personal invitation. Shackleton was installed as a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (C.V.O.), a dynastic order of knighthood founded by Queen Victoria in 1896. In the King’s birthday honour list of November, 1909, Ernest Shackleton was knighted. Sir Ernest Shackleton had been well-received and well-rewarded upon his return to London from the Antarctic wilderness.
In December, 1909, Shackleton turned eastwards to his native island of Ireland. He was to give a lecture on his Antarctic voyage in Dublin on Tuesday, 15 December.
On his way across Australia following the expedition, Shackleton had met Rachel, Countess of Dudley. Lady Dudley had suggested giving a lecture in Dublin on behalf of a nursing fund she had initiated. Shackleton often donated the proceeds from his lectures to local hospitals, charities, etc., and so he agreed to Lady Dudley’s idea.
Lady Dudley was the first wife of William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from August, 1902, to 11 December, 1905. The fund that Shackleton’s Dublin lecture was to assist was for the ‘establishment of district nurses in the poorest parts of Ireland’. Lord and Lady Dudley had a holiday home in the west of Ireland. On journeys across the country, they saw the destitution and lack of availability to medical personnel and resources. Lady Dudley was moved to establish a fund and a scheme to provide district nurses to the most rural, poverty-stricken areas of the country, particularly along the western seaboard.
Problems that faced providing medical assistance to the isolated parts of Ireland included travelling to the rural areas and the poverty of the inhabitants. A nurse attending a maternity case in 1910 recalled:
The house is an old stable. There is no bed in the house, just a table, one chair and one stool; they are very poor. Patient was lying in the corner in a frightful condition.
Six years after the foundation of Lady Dudley’s scheme, nineteen nurses were provided and maintained in poor districts. However, as The Irish Times reported, there was a consistent need for funds to continue and to extend their reach to ‘other equally poor and necessitous districts’. Not only did the scheme provide health care for isolated areas, it also gave training, professions and employment to nurses in a time of development in the field of nursing. Catriona Clear noted that this ‘provided opportunities for very hard but fulfilling work with few holidays.’
In 1909, Lady Dudley was in Australia as her husband was the Governor-General of Australia from September, 1908, to July, 1911. She had asked Shackleton to give a lecture to benefit the scheme and to show that ‘though she had left Ireland, her heart was still with them’.
Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lecture in Dublin on 14 December, 1909, was the big event of his visit to Ireland. It was advertised daily in The Irish Times thus:
LADY DUDLEY’S SCHEME
ESTABLISHMENT OF DISTRICT NURSES IN
THE POOREST PARTS OF IRELAND.
On Behalf on the Above,
SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON,
Will give his Illustrated Lecture on
“NEAREST THE SOUTH POLE,”
TUESDAY, December 14th, at 8.0,
By kind permission of the Senate.
The Chair will be taken by
HIS EXCELLENCY THE LORD LIEUTENANT.
Seats, £1 1s., 10/5, 7/5, 5/-; Unreserved 2/6.
Plan and tickets at Offices L.D.N.8., 30 Moles-
worth street, and Messrs. Cramer, Wood, and Co.
The Lecture will be fully Illustrated by
And Photographs taken during the Expedition.
There was another society appointment earlier in the day—Shackleton was the guest of the members of the Corinthian Club. He was the honoured guest at a luncheon in the Aberdeen Room of the Gresham Hotel in Dublin.
The Corinthian Club was a gentleman’s club founded by Sir Charles Alexander Cameron. He was a chemist, medical officer and writer. Cameron was President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is remembered for his contribution to hygiene and public health. He was a fan of drama and the arts and his creation and presidency of the Corinthian Club illustrated his tastes and enjoyments. In his book, Reminiscences, Cameron wrote:
On the 18th October, 1897, I invited a few friends to my house to discuss a proposal to establish a club in Dublin on the lines of the Savage Club in London.
The club soon established its luncheon and dinner schedule. Cameron himself revelled at dinner parties. His last article expressed that the ‘excellent habit of dining out’ was the trick to a long and happy life. At the club’s dinners, the members often paid honour to distinguished guests from a variety of spheres of public life. It was, however, ‘chiefly those who distinguish themselves in music and the drama who have been entertained by the club.’
The event was certainly noteworthy and The Irish Times reported on the hosting of the famous explorer by the fashionable club:
The occasion was one of very considerable interest, and a very large party of the members of the Club and their guests—including several ladies—assembled to do honour to the celebrated Antarctic explorer.
Sir Charles Cameron, as President of the club and the presiding chair of proceedings, proposed the toast to Sir Ernest Shackleton. He said that although the club had entertained many prominent guests in the past, ‘in the matter of interesting personality, none of them had exceeded in that respect the gentleman who they were there that day to honour.’ Cameron highlighted Shackleton’s place in the Royal Navy, ‘the most popular of the public services’, and the club’s pride in his achievements in the Antarctic. There had been Irish men who had distinguished themselves in the realm of the Arctic, but they could then, Cameron announced, ‘claim an Irishman as the greatest of Antarctic discoverers.’ This was met with a round of applause from the floor. Acknowledging his failure to actually reach the South Pole, Cameron said that Shackleton ‘had shown others the way there, and the means by which it might be reached’, and that he was, in effect, ‘the virtual discoverer of the South Pole.’ Again, this was met with applause.
Shackleton thanked the Sir Charles Cameron, the club and guests who had honoured him. In describing the British Antarctic Expedition 1907–1909, Shackleton said that
The expedition upon which he had been to the Southern Continent was one conducted entirely under British auspices. They had with them two Irishmen, five Scotchmen, two Welshmen, and the rest were Englishmen.
In the circumstances, it seems that he meant that the expedition was ‘British’ in that it included men from across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and strove to achieve its goals for the empire of which all of the crewmembers were a part. It was an inclusive expedition, led by an Irishman who believed in the aspirations as represented by the flag of the Union, under which the expedition sailed. Indeed, it was the Union flag given to Shackleton by Queen Alexandra that he had thrust into the ice at his furthest southern point.
Shackleton said that it was ‘a source of great pleasure to him to come to Dublin’ and that he ‘felt quite at home in Dublin’. Shackleton was born at Kilkea House in Co. Kildare, but the family moved to 35 Marlborough Road, in Dublin in 1880, when Ernest was six years old. The Shackletons lived in Dublin for four years as Henry Shackleton, Ernest’s father, studied and qualified in medicine at Trinity College Dublin. Ernest saw three of his sister born in Dublin—Clara, Helen and Kathleen. It was from the Carlisle Pier in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), south of Dublin, that the family moved to England in December, 1884.
The guests at the luncheon in the Gresham were treated to ‘a very enjoyable programme of music’ from over a dozen musicians. Mr. Henry Hunt, the club’s Honorary Secretary, was praised by Cameron for having devoted ‘much of his time in securing the highest class music at the club dinners’. The club’s dinners were seemingly a springboard for some musical careers:
Several young ladies, amateur vocalists, have, so to speak, made their debut at the club’s entertainments, and have become professionals.
The club’s Musical director, Dr Jozé, officiated at the piano alongside club member T. H Weaving.
On his arrival at the buildings of the National University of Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin (now the National Concert Hall), a guard of honour was provided for Sir Ernest Shackleton comprising the Dublin Squadron of the Legion of Frontiersmen and a party of coastguards from Kingstown Coastguard Station.
His Excellency John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, occupied the chair and opened proceedings. The Lord Lieutenant said that the large crowds were brought together by the ‘exception interest’ of the lecture and to welcome ‘a distinguished explorer, an Irishman [at this point there was applause] who has come to the Irish capital’. After some relevant attempts at humour, referring to the rival claimants on the North Pole, and praise for Lady Dudley and ‘the most beneficial work’ of the nursing scheme, the Lord Lieutenant announced, ‘I have great pleasure in introducing Sir Ernest Shackleton.’
Shackleton was ‘received with hearty applause’ by the audience in the sold-out venue. As Michael Smith noted, Shackleton ‘knew how to engage with people, either in close proximity or in large numbers at vast meeting halls’. He had a charm, an easy-going conviviality and as he gave his lectures without notes, his manner was very appealing.
Sir Ernest took his audience through the highs and lows, the hardships and the comradery of the expedition’s work. With his light-hearted jests and cheer, he kept his listeners attentive and engaged. Throughout his lecture, Shackleton had a selection of photographs from the expedition and maps of the areas visited, as advertised. After telling the story of the expedition’s exploits, the rest of the lecture was ‘devoted to the exhibition of a number of slides, illustrating various incidents of note which occurred during the voyage’. These included the movements and activities of the men of the expedition and those of the wildlife around them—penguins, birds, seals etc. This provided ‘a very great deal of amusement’ to the audience.
At the end of his speech at the luncheon earlier in the day, Shackleton praised the loyalty of his expedition colleagues. He again returned to speak about his men at the conclusion of his lecture. He praised the work of the scientific team of the expedition who were then busy producing memoirs and reports of their findings in the Antarctic regions. All of the men of the expedition had worked very hard, he said. As The Irish Times reported, Shackleton finished his lecture thus:
They [the crew of the expedition] were not standing so much in the limelight as he was, but he realised, and so would everybody else, that but for the splendid co-operation of those who helped him very little would have been accomplished.
Dermot Robert Wyndham Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, in proposing a vote of thanks to Shackleton, said
that they all realised the great hardships through which he and his companions had gone on their voyage to the South Pole and the benefits which the journey had conferred upon human knowledge and science.
General the Right Hon. Sir Neville Lyttelton, G.C.B., who also attended the Corinthian Club luncheon, seconded the vote of thanks and it ‘was carried by acclamation’.
Sir Ernest Shackleton was an entertaining all-round success in the eyes of Dublin high society. Attendees at the National University that evening had been in the presence of the Lord Lieutenant and many aristocratic figures. Fashionable society had come out to see the famous hero, poster-boy of polar exploration. As well as ‘paying a deserved tribute to a distinguished and intrepid Irishman’, in publicising the event The Irish Times also said that in attending Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lecture the public ‘will help maternally in succouring many poor peasants in pain and suffering.’ The paper said that they hoped the lecture would be beneficial to Lady Dudley’s nursing scheme, ‘for it would be a grievous loss if one of the nurses had to be withdrawn from a district whose inhabitants had learned to rely on her skill and counsel.’
In the end, Shackleton’s Dublin lecture raised £315 for the Lady Dudley scheme.
The Irish Times, 11 December, 1909; 15 December, 1909.
Books and articles
Andrews, H. ‘Cameron, Sir Charles Alexander,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography. Cambridge, 2009.
Breathnach, C. ‘Lady Dudley’s District Nursing Scheme and Congested District Board, 1903-1923,’ Gender and Medicine in Ireland 1700-1950, edited by Ó hÓgartaigh, M. and Preston, M. H. Syracuse, 2012.
Cameron, Sir C. A., Reminiscences of Sir Charles A. Cameron, C.B. Dublin, 1913.
Clear, C. Social Change and Everyday Life in Ireland, 1850-1922. Manchester, 2007.
Smith, M. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer. Cork, 2014.
Webb, N. ‘Sir Ernest Shackleton in Dublin’. The James Caird Society Journal, No. 8, edited by Scott-Fawcett, S. 2016.
National Library of Ireland. Portrait of Sir Charles Alexander Cameron, (1830-1921), plate to the Provincial Medical Journal (now British Medical Journal), 1 March, 1886.
National Portrait Gallery, London Portrait of Rachel (née Gurney), Countess of Dudley by Alexander Bassano:
National Portrait Gallery, London Portrait of William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley by Lafayette Ltd.
The Perceptions of Pregnancy. Delay, C. ‘‘Always Ready’: Handywomen and Childbirth in Irish History’:
Wikipedia entry, ‘William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley’:
Wikipedia entry, ‘John Hamilton-Gordon, 1st Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair’: