A century-old story of the British Antarctic expedition and the Australian photographer who documented it needs to be told before going into detail about our most recent ArchiveGrid index update.
100 years ago, against the backdrop of the early stages of World War One, the national heroes in Great Britain and Norway were men who had been on expeditions in Antarctica, the world’s final frontier at the time. Like the 1960s United States/Russia race to the moon, Britain wanted to beat Norway to the South Pole. Roald Amundsen took that honor for Norway in 1911, easily beating Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott with superiority in skiing and dog sledding.
As a sort of consolation prize, 40-year-old Sir Ernest Shackleton, who contracted scurvy while on Scott’s first polar mission 12 years before, was determined to re-capture England’s glory by being the first to cross Antarctica.
Shackleton made sure that members of his expedition had the best of everything. Outfitted in Burberry aboard the new Norwegian barquentine “Endurance,” the men, along with 69 sled dogs, left a south Atlantic whaling station on Dec. 5, 1914, bound for the Weddell Sea. Their plan after crossing the continent was to catch a relief ship, the Aurora, in the Ross Sea.
Strong tents, big and hearty dogs, a disease-preventing nutrition plan, and a ship built of Norwegian fir to withstand ice were supposed to help the Shackleton Expedition succeed. Instead, ice packs trapped the Endurance, crushed her, and marooned the crew. They didn’t touch land for 497 days and they turned to eating their dogs, penguins, and seals for survival. Their survival was a testament to Shackleton’s leadership.
Some funds the Irish-born Shackleton raised for the cross-Antarctic expedition came from news and film rights sales. That’s where Australian photographer Frank Hurley comes into the picture. He provided the images that would cement what went from an ambitious undertaking to one of the most compelling stories of human survival. Not only did they help pay off debt Shackleton owed after the expedition, they are still held in high regard for their beauty and storytelling power.
Photo-journalists today can learn from Hurley’s innovation and courage to push the limits for the best shots, get close to his subjects, and leave no angle unconsidered. Hurley’s preservation technique of soldering negatives in metal casing is how his work incurred little damage during the expedition.
Gone is discovery done the Shackleton way, marked by hunger, strain, animal deaths, and rugged perseverance. But now you can discover photographs from the Shackleton Expedition in ArchiveGrid. New Australian contributors and collections of Hurley’s work were brought aboard during our most recent index update. The National Library of Australia’s collection of digitized glass plate negatives of photos taken during the expedition are just part of the collections that are newly included in ArchiveGrid.
We recently expanded the filter that selects WorldCat records for inclusion in ArchiveGrid to include more collections of images and both visual and audio recordings. After that expansion we needed to also broaden our horizons for institutions that we register for inclusion in ArchiveGrid. WorldCat contributors in Australia and New Zealand that weren’t previously registered as ArchiveGrid institutions have now been added, including:
- Art Gallery of New South Wales
- Australian National University
- Central Queensland University
- National Gallery of Australia
- National Library of Australia
- National Library of New Zealand
- State Library of New South Wales
- State Library of Queensland
- State Library of South Australia
- State Library of Victoria
- State Library of Western Australia
- University of Melbourne
- University of Sydney
We were excited to see how rich these collections from Down Under are, especially the materials related to the history of South Pole exploration. We are also excited that these collections are more “discoverable” for researchers. Isn’t excitement what drives people farther than they imagined? Who else on Dec. 5, 1914 felt more excitement than Sir Shackleton? Maybe, by seeing the uncharted future through Hurley’s lens, we can feel a bit of that excitement, too.
With the addition of these significant collection descriptions to ArchiveGrid, the Shackleton Expedition records are just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of collections you can explore. We invite you to share your discoveries with us!