Stepping Into the Past –Shackleton’s Hut

Stepping Into The Past — Shackleton’s Hut                       


Incredible and inspiring…those are words I’d use to describe the next adventure I’m going to take you on!  It’s not one I got to take part in on this trip to Antarctica, but I have had the opportunity to take this field trip on previous trips to this icy continent.  The history bears repeating in this blog though, because I want you to learn about the past Antarctic explorers. 


Today’s explorer is one of my favorites…Sir Ernest Shackleton.  His family motto was “Fortitudine Vincimus” which is Latin for “by endurance we conquer.”  Shackleton was an explorer who demonstrated his power of endurance on many occasions.  In fact, one of his ships was named Endurance.

If I was to travel from north McMurdo Station to Shackleton’s hut at Cape Royds (a distance of about 32 km or close to 20 miles) , I would pass by the awesome Barne Glacier.  (all photos from 2006)


(photo by Cristina Millan)

A climb up and over a volcanic hill brings Sir Ernest Shackleton’s hut into view.  This hut is from Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition  (1907-1909).


This prefabricated (premade) hut was constructed at Cape Royds and Shackleton and his men in just ten days.  They took an additional three weeks to insulate it from the cold and built an outer wall around the south and east sides to enhance the insulation.  They packed crates and volcanic rocks into the space between the wall and the hut.



Stepping inside the cabin is stepping inside a history book.  Eyes adjust to the dim light, and senses pick up subtle hints such as the musty smell of old clothing and sleeping bags. Textures appear….hardened fabrics, smooth metal, rusted objects rough with age, hard wooden floors and walls, glass bottles, waxy candles, rough rope hanging from nails.  It’s all so much to take in.  I have always felt the presence of the men that used this hut.  It’s as if they will come walking in, after a day of exploring, and share their tales of adventure!  I would love that!


When you hear the term “frozen in time” it certainly applies to the historic huts…in more ways than one.  First things are preserved because they appear as the men on Shackleton’s expedition left them.  Historic huts (and their contents) in the Ross Sea region are protected by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.  Their work is completed to exacting heritage standards.  The Trust’s specialist conservation teams are employed year round in Antarctica and work in challenging environmental conditions to conserve and protect the historic huts.


The cold temperatures and dry conditions also helped “freeze” things in time.  Not much has decayed compared to what would happen in other climates around the world.


There is quite a bit of natural light in this hut.   It’s funny how your eyes can adjust.  I did have to use my flash to get these photos….there was not enough light without using that feature on the camera, even though it looks much brighter in my photographs.


I tried to photograph every little detail so that I would always remember how special it is to visit such an incredible place.  In some way I don’t think I even needed the camera.  Something about a place like this makes an imprint in your mind and you remember it forever.  I’m fascinated with the expeditions of the early Antarctic explorers—tales of adventure, danger, discovery and at times, tragedy.  Their determination to leave their mark in history brought out amazing personal characteristics that were instrumental in meeting and surmounting the many challenges that came their way during the Heroic Age of Exploration in Antarctica.


Shackleton had joined Robert Falcon Scott on an earlier expedition to Antarctica…the Discovery Expedition from 1901-1904.  It was to be the first of four Antarctic expeditions for Shackleton.  Determination led him back to Antarctica for the Nimrod Expedition in 1907, for a second try at reaching the South Pole. 


In terms of records, this expedition was a big success. Shackleton and three other members of the team sledged toward the South Pole and reached 88 degrees south latitude…a new record for farthest south.  They ran short of food and were forced to turn around, only 150 kilometers from the Pole.  But, Shackleton had pioneered a new route up to the Polar Plateau.  That wasn’t the only success of this expedition.


A second group from his party had set off to reach the South Magnetic Pole.  This had been a goal (not achieved) of James Clark Ross back in 1841.  T.W. Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Forbes Mckay accomplished this goal on January 16, 1909…sixty-eight years later. 


In another “first” T. W. Edgeworth David and five other men made the first ascent (climb) to the top of Mt. Erebus.  This feat took them five days.  Just look at Erebus in and of my my photos and I think you’ll agree that even today with modern equipment and better clothing…it’s still a formidable mountain.



Another momentous “first” was that Shackleton had planned all along to not just write papers while he was on this expedition…he wanted to publish a book. In fact, the book “Aurora Australis” (Southern Lights) was indeed published inside of this hut at Cape Royds, during the long winter months of the expedition.  Expedition members Wild, Joyce (both responsible for printing), Marston (illustrator), and Day (who manufactured the covers), with Shackleton as editor, had completed the first book printed in the Antarctic. 


It’s easy to see that there were many significant successes in Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition. 


While in Tasmania in 2005, Andie Smithies from the Australian Antarctic Division shared an original copy of “Aurora Australis” with me.  Only 25-30 copies of the book were printed, sewn and bound, which makes this an extremely rare book.  Notice how the cover is made from one of over 2,500 provision boxes, in this case one that had previously held butter.  We had to handle the book carefully and wear gloves.  It is an extremely valuable item in their collection of Antarctic artifacts.

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Take a visual tour of inside the hut with the following photographs.


I turned this photo (below) upside down so you could read the words:  “British Antarctic Ship Nimrod” and the “Lyttleton” refers to their point of departure…Lyttleton Harbor in New Zealand.





Amongst the boxes and tins of supplies  (Photo by Megan Berg)


Notice the label and date on these wholemeal biscuits:  British Antarctic Expedition 1907.


Quite a supply of candles….




Notice the date on this provision box…the box is used for a storage shelf



This is motor fuel used in the first car in Antarctica—an Arrol-Johnston.


A canvas curtain used to partition (close off or separate) areas of the hut…


Supply boxes and an old doghouse outside of the hut…


Cape Royds is not only known for Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition hut, but it is also the site of the Adelie penguin rookery where Jean is studying colonies of penguins. See my previous posts for more information on Jean’s work.  I’ll leave you with these little Adelies…on a mission across the snow and ice.  Wherever you are, enjoy your day!



Headed out on the sea ice… (Photo by Megan Berg)





13 responses to “Stepping Into the Past –Shackleton’s Hut

  1. Wow. I love this blog on Shackleton’s Hut and his adventure. It truly is frozen in time and quiet awe inspiring. I am amazed how preserved everything is even with the weather conditions. It makes me wonder how an individual will react 50 – 100 years from now when he/she views the hut. What will the person be wearing? How will time have changed the living conditions in McMurdo or the area? What results will have been learned and used? What new research projects will be undertaken? etc. etc. etc.

    Have a nice evening.


    • Oh I love this comment! Who would have thought we’d be standing in the historic huts now, thinking back on the adventures of these polar explorers? I can only imagine their surprise at how much things have advance and changed in the past 100 years! You are right, Kathy, what will the next 100 years bring? LIOB Boop

    • Merry Christmas to the whole Moritz family! It’s a quiet Christmas Day here in McMurdo. I have talked with most of my family, and I miss them a lot right now. Enjoy your holidays together. See you back in Crystal Lake! Keep on reading….thanks for the positive feedback! 🙂

  2. Merrry Christmas to you and all the other explorers. I hope you all have a nice holiday and can enjoy it. I loved this article. I had read an article on Shackleton in either the National Geographic or Smithsonian a while back and was amazed at his endeavors. What is interesting in your article is the explorer from 1841. I had no idea someone attempted that so long ago. Thanks for the continued info.

    • Hi Paula! Merry Christmas to your whole family! It’s a quiet Christmas Day here in McMurdo. I miss family and friends back home, but we’ve had a nice celebration here. Keep on reading and pass the word about the blog to everyone at PR. Get some of the science teachers involved when you get back to school. Happy Holidays! xo Boop

  3. Dear Betty,
    What an amazing adventure you are on :). Thank you for sharing this post about the 1907 expedition and the pictures of the hut and their supplies was so helpful in imagining what life could of been like in Antarctica. I love the penguins….Lots of love from Zurich, Switzerland. Merry Christmas!

    • Merry Christmas Giannina! Thanks for your comment on this blog post. I love the history of this region…so amazing that they traveled here and had such adventures in this harsh environment. I hope you are enjoying family and friends in Switzerland. Lots of Love and smiles! xo Betty

  4. Hi, I came accross this scienceroadshow website, researching for my Class topic ‘Antartica’ and I’m blown away with the photos etc. My great uncle was Edgeworth David, travelled with Shackelton aboard Nimrod on the 1907 -1909 expedition to Antartica. So you can see my fascination! Can you send me any more photos, share your impressions of the hut and area, so I can share with my class?
    Many thanks Veronica.

    • Hello Veronica,
      What an exciting connection for you, and for your class. Would you be able to contact me directly at, and we can talk about getting some photos to you for your class? Where do you teach and what grade level do you teach? I would love to learn more about your great uncle as well. Contact me and we’ll get the conversation going. Thanks for your interest. Cheers, Betty

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