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Science and Study

Part of the Shackleton exhibition.

"James was physicist, and was engaged in working magnetic observations, occulations of stars.... He had some wonderful electrical machines which none of us understood, and a joke of ours that annoyed him very much was that he did not either."

- Dr. Alexander Macklin, Diary


Shackleton was drawn to exploration by his romantic, questing nature--not by scientific interest. He was aware, however, that an expedition was formally "sanctioned" by its perceived scientific goals. Accordingly, he had recruited a scientific staff of four; it included a biologist, a geologist, a meteorologist and a physicist.

Shackleton's original plan had been that the scientists, working from their base on the Weddell Sea, would investigate Graham Land to the west and Enderby Land to the east. Both the Endurance and the relief ship Aurora were equipped for dredging and hydrological work. In the optimistic words of Shackleton's expedition prospectus, "The several shore parties and the two ships will thus carry out geological and scientific work on a scale and over an area never before attempted by any one Polar expedition."

These plans were quickly frustrated. Although the scientists doggedly continued their work, the expedition's most significant contribution to science was unforeseen: its careful record of the drift of the notorious Weddell Sea.