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The Men Left Behind

Part of the Shackleton exhibition.

"We gave them three hearty cheers & watched the boat getting smaller & smaller in the distance. Then seeing some of the party in tears I immediately set them all to work."

- Frank Wild, Memoir

Map showing sea route from South Georgia to Elephant Island where 22 men from the sunken ship Endurance awaited rescue from April to August 1916.

Shackleton left his trusted second-in-command, Frank Wild, in charge of the 22 men who remained on Elephant Island. Their circumstances were bleak. Some of the men were frostbitten or in poor health, while others were temporarily mentally unstable. The island was "almost continuously covered with a pall of fog and snow," according to meteorologist Leonard Hussey. For the first two weeks after their landing, a gale blew without cessation, at times reaching wind speeds of over one hundred miles an hour. The men's clothing was by now threadbare, and there was no shelter.

Group of 15 to 20 men on the beach of an overcast Antarctic island waving at a small ship departing in the distance.

Under Wild's persistent command, the men labored to improve their living conditions by small degrees. The two remaining boats were overturned on stone walls and made into a hut, and the remnants of tents served as insulation. Makeshift blubber lamps gave off dim light. Wild organized daily hunting expeditions along the narrow beach. In the evening "sing-songs" relieved the tedium of this second polar night, the three months of darkness that occur annually in the Antarctic. Crammed into their small shelter, living hand-to-mouth off penguins and the occasional seals, the men stoically prepared to wait for "the Boss" to return from his heroic journey.