Finding Shackleton's Endurance, Can Hurley's Images Be Far Behind?

Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship, Endurance, which was crushed by ice and sank in 1915, has just been found. How is this photography related? Somewhere on board the ship is a treasure trove of Frank Hurley images documenting one of the last expeditions of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. 

Hurley's plates and film have been sitting in just over 3000 meters of frigid Weddell Seawater for over 100 years. 

Press photo provided by Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

Mensun Bound, marine archeologist and director of the expedition to find the Endurance has been quoted as saying:

Without any exaggeration this is the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen - by far.

It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation.

Is there a chance that Hurley's images might be salvageable? 

Hurley's image of the Captain Frank Worsely. Public Domain.

Those who know the story will remember that Hurley and Shackleton smashed many of Hurley's plates before the ship sank. 

When Endurance initially began to slowly sink, Hurley realized he had not saved all of his exposed plates. Hurley himself repeatedly dove into the wreck to reach his storage room, below the surface of the ice. If anyone has taken a Polar Bear Dip, can you imagine doing it again and again, with no sauna waiting for you? To be honest, I’m sure he had a few drams of scotch to keep him warm. 

When it became clear that the expedition would have to move on from the sinking ship, Shackleton and Hurley sat together on the ice to choose what plates and film to take and what to leave behind. Heartbreakingly, the two smashed the plates they decided to leave behind so that there would be no second thoughts. In the end, they saved only 120 plates, with the location of 30+ plates still a mystery. Are those missing plates and perhaps some film still entombed in the ship?

We know that some film was pulled from an Antarctic expedition hut back in 2013 and developed. The film turned out to be from the Scott expedition, taken by Arnold Patrick Spencer-Smith, in 1915. If that film has survived, is it possible that some of Hurley's images can be pulled from the depths?

Press photo provided by Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust

The wreck is protected as a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, ensuring that for the time being, the wreck will only be surveyed and filmed. I'm assuming that this means that nobody will go poking around inside. For now, we'll have to be patient. Looking forward to the promise of more of Hurley's images:

Frank Hurley, Public Domain.

Lead image and Endurance 22 images are provided by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, taken by Contemporary images of the Endurance on the expedition were taken by Frank Hurley and are in the Public Domain.

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2 Comments
Jon Kellett's picture

If anybody were to breach the Antarctic Treaty and reclaim any artifacts, they'd have to have very deep pockets to get that deep down and also what's the point? They'd never be able to show off to anybody (the prime reason for claiming the artifacts).

So hopefully no Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos-level rich person decides to go poking around in 3000m of water (301 times atmospheric pressure being beyond the capabilities your casually rich person).

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Agreed - I wouldn't want someone to break the treaty - but eventually someone will be given permission to look inside and see what treasures there are - don't you think?

After all, the Titanic was a grave and there are still official explorers who have pulled up materials and put them on display.