Place: Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, early-June, 1916
Following the unsuccessful attempt to return to Elephant Island aboard Southern Sky, Shackleton arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands, on 31 May, 1916. He did his best to keep a low profile initially. Upon arrival, Shackleton tried to remain anonymous and refused to give his name to customs officers, who thought him a German spy. He took two officers into his confidence and swore them to secrecy and was thus allowed to proceed and land. It was upon his arrival that Shackleton heard the available news of Aurora and the Ross Sea Party of his expedition.
Shackleton wanted to arrive incognito because he had an exclusive contract with the Daily Chronicle on the story of the Endurance. Shackleton paid a quick visit to Government House and then rushed to the cable office and updated Ernest Perris at the Daily Chronicle of his arrival at Port Stanley and the story of the expedition up to that point. The next morning, the paper ran the sensational news of Shackleton and the expedition. Although the Battle of Jutland had occurred from 31 May to 1 June 1916, Shackleton was front-page news for two days. The story of the Antarctic expedition made for a welcome distraction from the war of attrition that had developed in Europe. As well as the press, Shackleton got in touch with his wife Emily, the Admiralty and King George V.
The Magellan Times could report on 8 June, 1916:
‘Telegrams have been received to the effect that a part of the members of the Shackleton South Polar Expedition have been wrecked on Elephant Island, South Shetlands. Every effort is being made to rescue these men.’
In his book, South, Shackleton wasted no time on this period:
‘The events of the days that followed our arrival at the Falkland Islands I will not attempt to describe in detail. My mind was bent upon the rescue of the party on Elephant Island at the earliest possible moment. Winter was advancing, and I was fully conscious that the lives of some of my comrades might be the price of unnecessary delay.’
Frank Worsley later wrote that they had no means by which to leave as Southern Sky had returned to South Georgia Island. Worsley attempted to amuse himself:
‘At this time there were no means by which we could leave the island, as the whaler had returned to South Georgia. To pass the time I rambled about the islands, which consist mainly of low, tussock-covered hills and downs. There are no trees, but under the tussock is about five or six feet of peat, which the inhabitants cut out and dry for fuel. To cultivate a garden the peat has to be removed first of all.’
Shackleton revealed himself in the morning of 1 June and on that day the Boss, Crean and Worsley boarded HMS Avoca to dine and to receive a change of clothes. The three men were greeted by Sir William Douglas Young, KBE, CMG, Governor of the Falkland Islands (1915-1920), who gave the explorers accommodation and assistance.
Shackleton was put up at Government House while Worsley was accommodated by John Luce (appointed Companion, Order of the Bath, 1914, and later made Rear Admiral), Captain of the HMS Glasgow, who lent him the use of his cabin on board his Royal Navy vessel. Crean’s particular whereabouts do not seem to be known.
Governor Young chaired at a meeting at the town hall in the afternoon of 3 June, 1916, where Shackleton gave a brief account of the Endurance expedition up to that point. The Falkland Islands Magazine and Church Paper of July, 1916, recalled the event:
‘Sir Ernest, who still bore traces of the privations and anxieties of many months duration, gave an account of his adventures which thrilled all who were fortunate enough to hear it. With him on the platform were two of his comrades who had accompanied him on the whaler from South Georgia arriving here on the 31st of May, Capt. Worsley and and [sic.] P.O. Crean,- the latter decorated by the King for a heroic fear of endurance on a former Antarctic expedition, that of dragging a sick companion over 200 miles of snow and ice.’
It was apparently one of the largest crowds Port Stanley had ever seen. The report in the aforementioned magazine finished with the following lines:
‘The end of the story lies on the knees of the gods. At the end of his account, a simple and unvarnished story, Sir Ernest was heartily cheered in recognition of the pluck exhibited by him and his intrepid companions.’
Worsley acknowledged the reception that they received in the Falklands:
‘The residents of the Falkland Islands were most sympathetic to us in our plight…But not even the wonderful kindness that was shown to us could lessen the strain under which we laboured.’
Michael Smith has written that ‘Shackleton was under immense strain, exhausted by the ordeal and thwarted by the ice in his attempt to rescue the men from Elephant Island.’ Shackleton wrote to Emily three days after arriving in Port Stanley:
‘I have had a year and a half of Hell…And [I] am older of course but no lives have been lost, though we have been through what no other Polar Expedition has done. It was Nature against us the whole time.’
This strain and exhaustion would only increase for the Boss, Worsley and Crean over the months that followed.
Dictionary of Falklands Biography including South Georgia: https://www.falklandsbiographies.org/home.
The Falkland Islands Magazine and Church Paper, No. III, Vol. XXVIII (July, 1916). Port Stanley, 1916.
Foley, T. Crean: The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero. Ebook edition, 2018.
Huntford, R. Shackleton. London, 2000.
National Archives of the Falkland Islands: https://www.fig.gov.fk/archives/directorate.
Patagonia Bookshelf, Shackleton in Punta Arenas (1916): https://patlibros.org/mts/index.php.
Shackleton, E. H. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition 1914-1917. London, 1920.
Smith, M. Shackleton: By Endurance We Conquer. Wilton, 2014.
Wikipedia entries: Government House, Falkland Islands; HMS Glasgow (1909); John Luce (Royal Navy officer); List of Governors of the Falkland Islands; Stanley, Falkland Islands; William Douglas Young.
Worsley, F. A. Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure. London, 1939.