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Australia 1885 – 1962

(We took a dog team down to the wreck and salvaged a few essentials) 1915 Description: Cat.No.287
Materials & Technique: photographs, carbon photograph

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: printed image 56.6 h x 41.3 w cm sheet 56.6 h x 41.3 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1989
Accession No: NGA 89.1602

The floes came together again, and under their irresistible squeeze the timbers gave way and the waters rushed in; the ship was dead.

Ernest Shackleton

Hurley returned home from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition in 1913 and then, after a brief filming trip to Java, returned to the Antarctic to collect Mawson who had been caught there over winter. In October 1914 – after a whirlwind three month 6,000 mile trip by car through Northern Australia with fellow-adventurer Francis Birtles – Hurley joined Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition, the aim of which was to  transverse the Polar Plateau from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to McMurdo Sound. But the Endurance was caught between the floes 346 miles from land and sunk nine months later. With the ship about to sink at any time, Hurley dived into the freezing water and retrieved his films and plates. With the team facing a long man-haul across the sea ice, he negotiated with Shackleton to let him keep 120 glass plates while a remaining 400 were smashed on the ice. After their ice floe broke apart the men endured five days at sea before reaching Elephant Island. Shackleton and five others then left for the South Georgia whaling stations 800 miles away to get help. Three failed attempts were made before the men on Elephant Island were finally rescued after four and a half months. Despite all the almost unimaginable hardships, Hurley would make three more trips to Antarctica over the next twenty years, spending four years overall in the region.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra