Marooned on Elephant Island

After seven days in open boats, dodging pack ice in treacherous Antarctic seas, the men finally landed on the uninhabited Elephant Island. They were suffering from exhaustion, fatigue and exposure, but an overwhelming sense of relief overcame them as they finally set foot on solid land after months trapped in ice.

"Conceive our joy on setting foot on solid earth after 170 days of life on a drifting ice floe...Many suffered from temporary aberration, walking aimlessly about, others shivering as with palsy" (Frank Hurley diary, 15 April 1916, MLMSS 389/2).

On 24 April 1916, Shackleton and a party of men set out in one of the boats, the James Caird, in search of help. South Georgia and civilisation was over 1,125 kilometres away across the stormy Atlantic Ocean. The remaining men, without adequate food, shelter or equipment, were demoralised and uncertain of their survival. "We pray that the Caird may reach South Georgia safely and bring relief without delay" (Frank Hurley diary, 30 April 1916)

Shackleton left Frank Wild in charge of the remaining party which included Frank Hurley. Together, the men fashioned a makeshift living quarters, termed the 'snuggery', which comprised two overturned boats positioned on stone walls and fastened with canvas. "The entire party of 22 sleeps in this small space snugly though sardiniuosly" (Frank Hurley diary, 1 May 1916).

Ground plan [Snuggery], 1916, by Frank Hurley. Pencil sketch from diary. MLMSS 389/2 item 2

 

Hurley took a group portrait of the men three months after they arrived on the Island: "The most motely & unkempt assembly that ever was projected on a plate" (Frank Hurley diary, 10 May 1916) 

Group portrait

The members after three months on Elephant Island, 10 May 1916, by Frank Hurley.

Photograph PXA 715/21

On 30 August 1916, the men were finally rescued by the Chilean trawler Yelcho. Shackleton, who had sailed 1,125 kilometres in an open boat, battling gale and harrowing conditions in search of a rescue vessel, was aboard the Yelcho to greet them.