Brothers in endurance
Three of the greatest polar explorers were freemasons, including Sir Ernest Shackleton, whose exploits in antarctica are enjoying renewed media interest.
John Jackson reports.
Explorers are a breed apart, facing danger as a way of life, and overcoming insuperable odds - or dying heroically in the attempt. Three of the greatest polar explorers had two things in common. First, they were all Freemasons, and second, they each died, in different circumstances, in that merciless and forbidding frozen sub-continent.
Indeed two of the great names, Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and Captain Robert Falcon Scott, were both in the same Lodge - Navy No. 2612 - while the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen was also in the Craft.
From a Masonic viewpoint, Shackleton is unique in a couple of other aspects. He must hold the record (or must be close to it) for the gap between taking his first and second degrees. Because of his polar explorations, after being initiated in Navy Lodge on 9
July 1901, it was well over ten years before he took his second step in Freemasonry, at an emergency meeting on 2 November 1911, in the Guild of Freemen Lodge No. 3525.
This Lodge, restricted to Freemen of the City of London, also conducted his third degree ceremony, again in an emergency meeting, on 30 May 1913. He became an honorary member of that Lodge on 28 April 1914.
His second notable act was
to announce his last expedition publicly at a Ladies Festival of the Guild of Freemen Lodge, surely something no other explorer has ever done before
Now Shackleton, 80 years after his death, has become
something of a cult figure, since Channel 4 screened an epic two-part, four-hour extravaganza with Kenneth Branagh in the star role at the beginning of the year. At £10.5 million, and shot over a four year period, it was Britain's costliest TV drama
production, but it faithfully repaid its makers with an audience of 3.6 million viewers on each night - 16 per cent of the TV-watching audience.
As well as several books, a novel also captured the harrowing expedition through the pen of Caroline Alexander, whose Mrs Chippy's Last Expedition was written in the voice of the
ship's cat! Shackleton himself wrote two accounts of his journeys for posterity in The Heart of the Atlantic (1909) and South (1919).
There have also been
several re-enactments of Shackleton's legendary open boat journey and South
Georgia's mountain crossing. And for those of a particularly adventurous spirit, there is now the opportunity to travel in Shackleton's footsteps across South Georgia Island, albeit in conditions of some
Shackleton led the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition aiming to be the first to cross that inhospitable continent. He set sail with a
crew of 27 in a ship he renamed Endurance after his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus - 'by endurance we conquer' - in December 1914 as the guns began their ominous roar at the opening of the First World War.
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