Beset

archive photo of ship trapped in an icy landscape

Endurance beset, full sail © Royal Geographical Society

"Monday 18th Lat 76.27S Long-28.46 W [W]e have done 23 miles but we have come to a full stop again I think we will have to wait untill it opens up a bit as it is very heavy ice..."
Henry 'Chippy' McNish, diary.

On 18 January 1915, only one day short of her destination, the Endurance entered dense pack ice. Reluctant to use the enormous steam power required to push through it, Shackleton and Captain Worsley waited for an opening. In the night, however, the ice closed around the ship. A northeasterly gale wind arose, compressing the pack tightly against the continental shore - and the ship within it. Several days passed before the expedition realized they were trapped until the austral spring - some nine months away.

On the night of 24 January, a lead of open water appeared ahead of the ship.

"Today at 9am we hoisted all sail and got up full steam and continued to drive the engines full speed ahead until noon in the hopes of reaching the open water but all to no avail." Thomas Orde-Lees, diary.

Frank Hurley's images of the beset Endurance are some of the very best of his extraordinary photographic record. Technically perfect, they also radiate his steadfast wonder for the Antarctic landscape. He wrote in his diary, at the end of the long winter:

"The air is so exhilarating, that one can scarce refrain from bursting into song and singing thy charms, oh wondrous land!"

Hurley's reverence was to be severely tested by the ordeal that lay ahead - but it never wavered.