Ocean Camp main content.

Ocean Camp

Part of the Shackleton exhibition.

"It is beyond conception, even to us, that we are dwelling on a colossal ice raft, with but five feet of water separating us from 2,000 fathoms of ocean, & drifting along under the caprices of wind & tides, to heaven knows where."

- Frank Hurley, Diary

Antarctic coast. Elephant Island top left, South Georgia top right. Ocean area in center reads “Men camp on drifting ice October 1915 to April 1916.”

With the ruin of their ship looming behind them, the men set up "Ocean Camp," a makeshift camp on the ice. Each man was issued warm clothing and a sleeping bag: Shackleton quietly ensured that the warmer reindeer skin bags went to the sailors, while the officers took the less desirable woolen ones. Their most valuable clothing, their Burberry tunics, were the weight of umbrella fabric and windproof but not waterproof. Their five tents were made of linen so thin the moon could be seen through them. With no communication system, no one in the outside world knew where they were.

As always, Shackleton was as concerned with his men's morale as with their physical well-being. He knew that as their leader his every word and gesture would be critical in these vulnerable days. Dr. Alexander Macklin reports that in the aftermath of the disaster, Shackleton assembled his men and calmly told them: "Ship and stores have gone, so now we'll go home."


The men resigned themselves to camping on the ice for an indefinite time. A galley and storehouse built from the Endurance's broken timbers stood in the center of the five tents, while the dogs were pegged nearby in teams. Along with the three life boats, three tons of food supplies were salvaged from the half-sunk ship, and when these ran out the men existed on penguins and seals. At the end of March, the last of their beloved dogs were shot, and eaten.

The temperature ranged from highs in the 30's to a low of -21 degrees Fahrenheit; the mean temperature in March was 1 degree. The men's sleeping bags were alternately sodden from melted snow and frozen as stiff as sheet metal. Day by day, the dwindling floe of ice on which they were camped drifted north toward open sea.