Historic photographs of explorer’s epic journey to go on display in Clydebank

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Endurance – the sails were up in an effort by the crew to break out from the ice.

By Bill Heaney

The fascinating story of an explorer’s adventure and survival across the Antarctic are being told through a series of images on display at Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery. 

Antarctic Witness is an incredible photographic record of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s heroic exploration of the Antarctic, from 1914-17.

The exhibition, on loan from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), is one of the greatest ever photographic records of human survival.

Open now and running until Saturday, 1 June 2019, the exhibition tells the story of Shackleton’s great attempt to cross Antarctica  in 1914.

Hurley Frank photogImages taken by expedition photographer Frank Hurley, pictured right, were selected and saved from the sinking Endurance by Hurley and Shackleton – and have been preserved from the original, fragile glass plate negatives by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).

The expedition vessel was completely trapped in ice in early 1915 and sank ten months later with all crew forced to move onto the floating ice. Shackleton then began an extraordinary 800-mile voyage in little more than a rowing boat to a whaling station before returning to save his crew.

The photographic plates vividly capture the spirit of endurance, trust, courage and judgement shared by Shackleton and his team.  Their adventure and the ultimate survival of all the men remains unsurpassed in Antarctic history.

Shackleton is now in the frame in a reader poll run by the BBC to become the Greatest Person of the 20th Century.

Agnew Dennis.jpgBailie Denis Agnew, pictured left, Convener of Cultural Services, said: “The story of Shackleton and his crew is regarded as one of the most heroic feats of navigation.  These photographs bring to life the sheer determination and fight for survival which has been beautifully captured through the lens of expedition photographer Frank Hurley.

“The exhibition also highlights the extreme challenges faced by the men and the story of their will to survive in the most unimaginable conditions.

“I would like to thank the Royal Geographical Society for bringing this exhibition to West Dunbartonshire and I would encourage the public to come along and see the determination, struggle, survival and rescue of the great explorer and his crew.” 

Alasdair MacLeod, Head of Enterprise and Resources from the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), said: “We are delighted to be working with Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery and that they are giving us the opportunity to share this extraordinary story through our Collections with the widest audience possible.”

A century ago in 2015 Sir Ernest Shackleton had been counting on Endurance to help him make it ashore, ahead of a trek across the continent past the South Pole.

The newly digitised images capturing the last days of Endurance, and the crew’s subsequent struggle to stay alive, went on show at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

And now they are on display at Clydebank Museum and Art Gallery.

“Frank Hurley’s beautiful image of Endurance confuses people because the sails are up,” says the Antarctic historian, Meredith Hooper, who has curated the exhibition, Enduring Eye.

“And yet she is beset in the ice. The sails are up because they had reached a moment when the crew thought they could break free.”

Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and photographer Frank Hurley.

Shackleton – with the help of his 27-man crew – had planned to cross Antarctica from coast to coast, picking up supplies left by a second team as he neared the other side.

“He minded very much that he wasn’t the first at the South Pole,” says Hooper.

“He saw the Endurance expedition as the last great Antarctic achievement.”

But he never made mainland Antarctica. After a six-day gale in January 1915, the Norwegian-built ship became trapped in ice in the Weddell Sea.

She would then drift in the ice for ten months – with Shackleton and his men living on board.

Frank Hurley’s images show how the crew survived during that uncertain period – when they were at the whim of the shifting pack ice.

For the first time, Hurley’s images have been scanned digitally direct from the original glass plates on which they were taken – revealing details never seen before. The mid-ground and background in each shot is crisper and sharper.


This is an exhibition not to be missed.

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