Magazine article The Spectator

Inspirational Explorer

Magazine article The Spectator

Inspirational Explorer

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 3

Shackleton: The Antarctic and Endurance (Dulwich College, till 25 February 2001)

Inspirational explorer

If ever there was a refreshing ikon for our era, the Polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton is it, Films are proliferating, of which George Butler and Caroline Alexander's Endurance: Shackleton and the Antarctic (seen this month on Channel 4) is the latest, and one with Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton is in the pipeline.

Writing two years prior to Shackleton's premature death in 1922, Gerald Cumberland summed up the explorer's attributes. Shackleton possessed, he wrote, `the sea's restless energy, its buoyancy, its salt-healthiness, and something of its mystery'.

Cumberland was right. True, Shackleton's expeditions were attended by outward failure: not getting to the South Pole; the loss of his ship, although not of his men; and, finally, his own death, aged not quite 48. `Salt-healthiness' catches the Viking spirit of adventure; but 'mystery' evokes not only the self-sufficient introspection that merged with care for his crew and easy bonhomie to fuel Shackleton's great qualities of leadership, but the poet and romantic in him too. He accompanied Scott and Wilson on their 1902 southward journey, and was an inspiration to his colleagues on Discovery; men such as Wild, Worsley and Crean would have followed him to the jaws of hell - and did.

Shackleton read avidly as a teenage merchant marine, a point that is underlined not just in this inspirational exhibition - the first retrospective featuring Shackleton alone, as his granddaughter Alexandra, president of the Dulwich-based James Caird Society, points out - but also in the superbly produced catalogue that accompanies it. `More objects, relics and photographs have been lent to us by relatives and descendants of the crew on Shackleton's expeditions (aboard Nimrod, Endurance and Quest) than ever before,' explains Dr Jan Piggott, the Dulwich College archivist, to whom credit for the current exhibition - which contains hundreds of items - is largely due. Its memorabilia arc up the wall to the impressive barrelvaulting of the old library at Dulwich College, where Shackleton was at school.

The exhibition's centrepiece is the James Caird, the boat in which Shackleton made his epic voyage. …

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