The Quest arrives at the whaling station of Grytviken on South Georgia Island on Jan. 4, 1922, six years after all the men of the Endurance were rescued. Ernest Shackleton is greeted warmly by his friend the station manager and they spend the day revisiting favorite sites around the station.
That evening, Shackleton dines aboard the Quest and goes to bed. At two in the morning, Shackleton summons his friend Alexander Macklin, a surgeon, to his cabin. Macklin is concerned about The Boss’s health and notices the cold in the cabin. He leaves and returns with a heavy blanket which he tucks around Shackleton.
Macklin remains and talks with Shackleton, carefully suggesting that perhaps he should take it easy for a while.
“You are always wanting me to give up something,” replies Shackleton “What do you want me to give up now?” Suddenly a massive heart attack hits and he dies shortly before 3 a.m.
He is 47 years old.
He is 47 years old.
|Sir Ernest Shackleton|
= =Ten days previously in this voyage.
The Fram moves slowly into East Cumberland Bay on the eastern coast of South Georgia Island and drops anchor in the pristine water. Sunlight glints off the frothy wake of a Polarcirkle boat as it takes me to land on a beautiful and peaceful day in this remote place.
I step out of the boat onto a small rocky beach and watch the seals and penguins nearby.
Then I walk up a gentle rise of low grass punctuated with mounds of tussock grass and pass through an opening in an immaculate white fence. I carefully watch where I’m stepping as I proceed to the far side of this small enclosure and stop at a stone monolith several feet high.
Before me is the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton, explorer, author, and leader extraordinaire of men. Though most of the graves here are oriented east, Shackleton's is oriented south towards Antarctica. The remains of Frank Wild, his devoted right hand man in life, are buried at Shackleton’s right.
|Whaler's church at Grytviken|
It is customary for visitors to this remote and stunningly beautiful place to pause here and pay their respects to the man who was arguably the last man of the heroic age of explorers. It is also customary to dribble a shot of Scotch whisky over Shackleton’s grave, which was his favorite drink.
A few years ago, five cases of Scotch were discovered buried under the hut Shackleton built in Antarctica for his Nimrod expedition. After great effort by the distiller, the whisky’s flavor was duplicated and a bottle sold for £100, or about $160 a bottle. Even the glass maker took pains to make the bottle look as if had been made a century ago.
I turn around and look at Shackleton’s final resting place. Tall mountains, slowly losing their snowy duvets, sparkle in the sunshine of early austral summer.
Before me, a freshly- painted black and white expedition ship bobs at anchor as little orange boats deliver visitors to the beach.
To my left are the carefully preserved remains of the Grytviken whaling station, a monument to a bygone era. The seals and whales and penguins that once were slaughtered here for their oil are now protected. Inside a small museum building is a replica of the James Caird.
Rising above the vats and conveyors and rusting ruins of whaling boats is the steeple of a white church where a service was held for Shackleton. After Wild’s grave was located a few years ago, and his remains transported to South Georgia, another service was held in the church for him.
Elephant and fur seals haul out on the beaches and slumber unmolested. Three King penguins waddle down from a snow patch to peer at the newcomers in blue parkas.