07 Dec 2021

Endurance diary on loan to Athy Museum

Experts believe it belonged to ship’s carpenter

Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton

A diary from polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's iconic Antarctic expedition has been donated to the museum in Athy.

The diary surfaced last year during a filming of the BBC’s Antique Roadshow in Belfast, when it was brought to the experts there by Nikki Jemphreys.  It is believed to have been kept by Harry McNish, ship’s carpenter on the Endurance expedition. 

Described as a mixture of diary and philosophical and scientific notes it is the first of its kind to be unearthed in relation to Shackleton’s Imperial Transantarctic expedition 1914 to 1917.

While Shackleton led the expedition, Captain F Worsley commanded the Endurance which famously became stuck in ice in January 1915 and sank that November during Shackleton’s attempt to sail south and cross Antarctica by land.

Kerryman Tom Crean and Corkman Tim McCarthy were part of the lifeboat crew who sailed some 800 nautical miles with Shackleton from Elephant Island to South Georgia to get help for their stranded colleagues. Shackleton's concern for his men was such that he gave his mittens to photographer Frank Hurley, who had lost his during the boat journey. Shackleton suffered frostbitten fingers as a result.

The diary – which will be on loan to the Athy Heritage Museum for at least a year – contains some fascinating nuggets about that voyage over 100 years ago.

While there are still concerns about its provenance based on the fact that a ship’s carpenter was not required to keep a log; four experts have all deemed it likely that the diary is McNish's.

The writer speaks of getting tired of a diet of seal and was ‘186 miles from known land’, stuck on a ship trapped in an ice floe in the Antarctic. He describes the ordeal of surviving on drifting ice and being forced to kill their dogs.

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