The Vault

Pitching a Potential Donor, Shackleton Sketched This Expedition Map 

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Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, gathering funds for his proposed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in 1914, sketched this route map on a menu card to explain his plans to a prospective donor. It’s included in Tim Bryars and Tom Harper’s recent book, A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps.

Bryars and Harper explain that Shackleton, attending the London Devonian Association’s annual dinner, was seated next to a member of Parliament, Sir Clive Morrison-Bell. Shackleton made his pitch to Morrison-Bell on the blank end-paper of the program that contained the menu and order of ceremonies for the fraternal organization’s banquet. The map shows the route that the explorer wanted to take, and Shackleton added a small diagram showing how a person would determine the location of the South Pole.

According to Bryars and Harper, Morrison-Bell would not have been capable of giving the explorer all of the money he needed for his third trip to Antarctica. While Shackleton’s dinner partner was well-off, the necessary sum to fund the expedition’s two parties, which would start from opposite sides of the continent and meet in the middle, was considerable. In the end, Shackleton met his goals by accumulating modest donations (including from Morrison-Bell), and by landing a big check from Scottish businessman Sir James Caird.

The expedition left in August 1914, and went awry that fall. The ship carrying the half of the expedition commanded by Shackleton got stuck in pack ice in January 1915. While the explorer achieved none of the goals he sketched on this card, the story of his group’s trials and tribulations during the two years that elapsed between the abandonment of that ship and the safe return of most of his men is no less incredible for it. 

Click on the image below to reach a larger, zoomable version. 

Ernest Shackleton, [A sketch map of Antarctica]. London, 1914. Pencil on paper, 18x24 cm. Royal Geographical Society, EHS/1/a)1914. 

A History of the Twentieth Century in 100 Maps, University of Chicago Press.