Others Before Self

Brother Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922)

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

“If you’re a leader, a fellow that other fellows look to, you’ve got to keep going.”  These are the wise words of Brother Ernest Shackleton – the infamous Arctic explorer of the early 1900s.  Shackleton was a man who put others before himself.  He never tasked men with something he wouldn’t do.  Shackleton was a man who wasn’t “afraid to throw away the rulebook or abandon plans if they were not working.”  When times were tough, he was exactly the man you wanted, when the collective group was starving for leadership and guidance.

At a young age, Brother Shackleton set his sights toward the sea and never looked back.  Born in Kilkea, Ireland, on February 15, 1874, Shackleton spent his youth as a merchant apprentice before passing his examination for Master Mariner in 1898.  This license qualified him to command a British ship anywhere in the world.  Before charting many of his more significant explorations, Shackleton stepped foot into Navy Lodge No. 2612 on July 9, 1901, where he was initiated Entered Apprentice.  Brother Shackleton would, however, put his further advancement on hold for some 10-years to fulfill his exploratory Arctic maritime passions.

Freemason book

Shackleton always had a thirst for exploration and adventure.  He was willing and committed to chart into the unknown, for he believed, “I seemed to vow to myself that someday I will go to the region of ice and snow and go on and on till I came to one of the poles of the earth, the end of the axis upon which this great round ball turns.”  Between 1907 and 1909, Brother Shackleton set out on the Nimrod expedition.  The goal of this expedition was to be the first to set foot on the South Pole.  Due to a lack of financial support, his inexperienced crew, and a much smaller vessel, his goal was not achieved.  Upon returning to England, Brother Shackleton was passed to the degree of Fellowcraft on November 2, 1911, which was completed with haste at an emergency meeting at Guild of Freemen Lodge No. 3525 in London.  Brother Shackleton was raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason on May 30, 1913.

The sea called to our brother once more and in 1914 returned to Antarctica aboard the three-masted barquentine named Endurance.  The goal of this new expedition was to make the first land crossing of Antarctica.  Built in Sandefjord, Norway, the ship was powered by a coal-fired 350-hp steam engine, capable of driving at speeds up to 10.2 knots.  Endurance measured 144 feet overall, with a 25-foot beam, and four layered pieces of solid oak, adding up to a total thickness of 7-feet, 1 inch.  She was the strongest wooden ship “ever built in Norway –and probably anywhere else—of her time.”

On October 23, 1914, at 6:45 P. M., the Endurance halted and became trapped in a thick sheet of ice.  The pressure of the ice against the ship started to crush its structural integrity slowly.  Brother Shackleton and his crew were trapped.  Temperatures were -14 degrees; the wind swung around 180 degrees around the vessel, and fear crept into every man’s mind.  The sound of ice crushing and suffocating the Endurance was described as a “rich, deep booming note heard, changing at times to a long creaking groan, which seems to carry a menacing tone.  It starts up gradually but stops abruptly, and sounds best in the distance, the greater the distance, the better the sound.”  Around 9:00 P.M. Brother Shackleton ordered his crew to disembark the ship and to camp on the floating ice near the vessel.  At around noon the next day, the Endurance was crushed.  “The decks buckled, and the beams broke; the stern was thrown upward 20 feet, and the rudder and stern were torn out of her.”  The pressure was too great.  The only men remaining on board, who were tasked with pumping the water out of the ship were ordered to retire from the vessel.  Brother Shackleton exclaimed, “She’s going boys,” and “I think its time to get off.”

Brother Shackleton carried his bible as he left the Endurance.  “May the Lord help you to do your duty & guide you through all the dangers by land and sea.  May you see the Works of the Lord & all His Wonders in the deep.”  Those very words were written on the flyleaf of the bible given to the expedition by Queen mother, Alexandra of England.  Brother Shackleton knew the survival of his crew, now with no ship, solely relied on his demeanor, guidance, positivity, and leadership.  For the next several months, Brother Shackleton and his crew solely survived off penguin and their sled dogs as they desperately attempted to find a way home.  As the ice began to separate, Brother Shackleton launched their survival boats in search of land.  Deeply exhausted and tired, on April 15, 1915, he and his crew landed on Elephant Island.  There they rested for some time, hoping a vessel may see them and to soon be rescued.  Brother Shackleton knew he could not wait long.  He knew they would not survive another winter.

Shackleton boldly left his entire 22-man crew behind on Elephant Island, and together with a team of five, set out for the island of South Georgia.  The island was a prominent whaling port and launching point for Arctic exploration during the turn of the century.  Before leaving, Brother Shackleton left a note for his second in command:

April 23, 1916

Elephant Island

                         Dear Sir

 In the event of my not surviving the boat journey to South Georgia you will do your best for the rescue of the party.  You are in full command from the time the boat leaves this island, and all hands are under your orders. . . I have every confidence in you and always have had, May God prosper your work and your life.  You can convey my love to my people and say I tried my best.

Yours Sincerely,

E. H. Shackleton 

Antarctica Shipwreck

Facing the ocean in a tiny lifeboat for 16-days, Brother Shackleton and his team reached the island of South Georgia, where they spent two days trying to land onshore. After finally landing in May of 1916, Shackleton trekked by land over the hills and valleys to the opposite side of the island to its port.  Upon reaching the other side, “heavily bearded, face almost black except for [his] eyes, and hair almost to his shoulders,” the curious onlookers asked, “Who the hell are you?”  The man stepped forward.  “My name is Shackleton.”

After receiving a fresh haircut and a belly full of food, Shackleton later set-out for Elephant Island to rescue his crew.  After three failed attempts, Brother Shackleton finally secured the Chilean “ancient sea going tug” Yelcho.  Relentlessly determined, Shackleton reached Elephant Island on August 30, 1916.  With spontaneous cheers, miraculously—everyone survived.  Later, Brother Shackleton wrote, “I have done it,” and “Not a life lost, and we have been through hell.”

*The iconic ship Endurance was recently found on March 5, 2022 – 100 years to the day since Brother Ernest Shackleton was buriedShackleton’s final resting place is in the Grytviken cemetery, South Georgia.


Written by Bro. Kyle A. Williams
Wallkill Lodge No. 627 F. & A. M.


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