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Polar legend’s flaws exposed in new book

Polar legend’s flaws exposed in new book

A new book published by Canterbury University Press claims Sir Ernest Shackleton’s flawed judgement was a contributing factor in the deaths of three support crew members, and says the polar hero carries ultimate responsibility for their fate.

When the adventurer’s dreams of crossing Antarctica foundered with his expedition ship Endurance in the ice of the Weddell Sea in October 1915, he could only have wondered what had become of his support party on the other side of the continent.

This group, which has since become known as the Ross Sea Party, had the task of laying the all-important depots in support of the planned traverse.

The party was dogged from the outset by lack of finance and inadequate preparation, and matters were severely compounded when, in May 1915, their ship Aurora was carried away from its winter moorings. This left 10 men stranded without proper equipment and supplies.

At great personal hardship and cost, they laid the depots across the Ross Ice Shelf to Mount Hope. Three of them were to die during this courageous and perilous endeavour.

Aurora which, after being marooned in pack ice for months, eventually made it back to Port Chalmers for a refit before sailing south again amidst considerable controversy to rescue the seven survivors.

After 90 years Polar Castaways provides the first in-depth account of the Ross Sea Party, the drift of Aurora and the relief expedition under the command of polar veteran Captain J.K. Davis.

It is the work of Christchurch coroner, Richard McElrea, and Antarctic consultant, David Harrowfield.

Richard McElrea is a past president of the New Zealand Antarctic Society and a past chairman of the Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 1971 he worked as a volunteer at the three historic sites in Antarctica that feature in the book. His experience on the ice more than 30 years ago was the starting point for Polar Castaways.

David Harrowfield has made numerous visits to Antarctica. He has worked with the Canterbury Museum, the International Antarctic Centre and the Antarctic Heritage Trust. In 1995 he was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship and studied historic site preservation in the polar regions.

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