Medals, orders, and decorations earned by Sir Ernest Shackleton for
polar exploration are headed to auction.
Christie’s London offers 12 lots of Shackleton’s property during its
Oct. 8 Travel, Science and Natural History auction. The lots are
offered as Nos. 141 to 152 in the sale.
Shackleton, a polar explorer who led three British expeditions to
the Antarctic, was one of the principal figures of the period known as
the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He was the most decorated of
all the polar explorers, according to Christie’s.
All of the pieces in the Shackleton portion of the auction have a
provenance “by descent from the recipient to the present owner,”
according to Christie’s.
His first effort at polar exploration was mixed, as he was forced by
illness to leave Capt. Robert F. Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition
(also known as the Discovery Expedition after the group’s ship) in
1903, after he, Scott and Edward Wilson established what was then a
new record “Farthest South” distance, some 200 miles from the South Pole.
1904 Discovery medal
In 1904, for his role in the Discovery Expedition, Shackleton was
awarded a silver version of London’s Royal Geographical Society gold medal.
The Royal Geographical Society issued special medals to the
officers, staff, and crew of the Discovery who served throughout the
expedition. The gold medal was awarded to Capt. Scott (and that
example is now in the British Museum).
The medal was designed by Gilbert Bayes and shows a bust of Scott
above two laurel branches on the obverse and an Antarctic scene
(members of the sledging party, the ship and a sledge, above seals and
penguins) on the reverse.
The silver version bestowed on Shackleton (whose name is incused on
the rim) is offered as lot 141 in the Christie’s auction. The medal
has an estimate of $32,000 to $63,000.
Shackleton was honored with a similar special award, in gold, by the
Society on his return from the Nimrod Expedition (again,named for the
ship that carried the explorers) in 1909.
Fourteen of the gold medals awarded to Shackleton, including the
London Royal Geographical Society gold medal for Nimrod, are no longer
in the family’s possession, according to Christie’s.
One gold medal, however, is offered as lot 146 in the auction.
This 1909 Royal Geographical Society of Antwerp medal honors
Shackleton for his successful 1907 to 1909 Antarctic (Nimrod) Expedition.
Shackleton was presented the award when he spoke to the society on
Oct. 22, 1909 (the medal itself bears the date Oct. 21, 1909).
The medal has an estimate of $3,200 to $6,300.
Though Shackleton failed to make the Nimrod Expedition’s main goal,
the South Pole, turning back some 97 nautical miles short, the journey
of some 1,755 miles was ground-breaking, as Shackleton, Frank Wild,
Jameson Adams, and Eric Marshall reached a new “Farthest South”
latitude, only 112 standard miles from the Pole. The explorers
discovered the Beardmore Glacier (and named it after Shackleton’s
patron) and were the first persons to see and travel on the South
Shackleton returned the hero. He had been made a Member of the Royal
Victorian Order on the outset of the expedition in 1907, and on his
return in 1909 was knighted and made a Commander of the Royal
Victorian Order. The physical order is offered as one piece in a
multi-piece lot, No. 152, in the Christie’s auction.
Shackleton embarked on a series of lecture tours at home, on the
continent, and in North America, and was showered with foreign
decorations by heads of state and societies, pieces that compose part
of the Christie’s auction.
Chile hosts explorers
Another of Shackleton’s ventures would end in disaster, but without
loss of life.
Shortly before World War I broke out, Shackleton began the Imperial
Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 to 1916, intending to make a first
crossing of the Antarctic Continent.
His ship Endurance was beset and crushed by ice, and sank in the
Weddell Sea in early 1916. The expedition then turned into an epic
tale of survival as expedition members journeyed on foot across the
ice and in open boats on the sea until they reached Elephant Island.
Shackleton then left most of his men for another long journey to
another island where help could be obtained. All of the men from the
Endurance survived, because Shackleton received help from the Chilean
authorities and eventually retrieved his marooned crew from Elephant Island.
Shackleton arrived in Punta Arenas with his rescued men on Sept. 3,
1916, where they enjoyed the hospitality of the Chilean port and its
British colony before eventually being presented to the Chilean
president and receiving their awards.
The Chilean Order of Merit, offered in lot 151, was an award made in
Santiago. The order recalls the happy ending. The order has an
estimate of $6,300 to $9,400.
To learn more about the auction, visit the firm’s