Australian Screen

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My South Polar Expedition (1910)

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Socks and the 'swingletree'

Clip description

Sir Ernest Shackleton describes the loss of Socks the pony into the crevasse, and the accident which saved Frank Wild’s life – the broken ‘swingletree’ connecting horse and sledge.

Curator’s notes

The one who went into the top of the crevasse was Frank Wild – a longtime friend of the explorer and an experienced Antarctic hand – so it is curious that Shackleton doesn’t name him or his comrades. This may have been a problem of time: Edison recordings were limited to just under three minutes. Shackleton was a highly accomplished public speaker, but he appears here to have been trying to rush his delivery.

The recording would have been issued for sale soon after it was made. There are at least four other cylinders of this recording in existence from the time. The copy held by the NFSA was donated in 2001. The digital version of this recording was supplied by the Edison National Historic site in the US.

Ernest Shackleton ... harnessed to one sled in very bad light. Our last pony was being led by another man, with 500 pounds of stores. All of a sudden we heard a shout of help from the man behind. We looked round and saw him supporting himself by his elbows on the edge of a chasm. There was no sign of the pony and the sledge was jammed with its bow in the crevasse.

We rushed back and helped the man out, and then hauled the sledge out. Then we lay down to have a look but nothing but a black gulf lay below. The pony may have fallen 1,000 or 1,500 feet. Anyhow, he had gone. What had happened was this: we, the first three, with our weight distributed, crossed in safety in the bad light the bridge over an unseen chasm. The weight of the pony following was too much. It crashed through, but the swingletree of the sledge snapped and that saved the sledge. The man leading the pony said that he just felt a lashing sort of wind, the rope was torn out of his hands, he flung himself forward, and thus escaped.

After this, we four men had over 1,000 pounds to pull and we were unable to pull the whole load at once, so we had to relay. That is, we hauled half our load for a mile, then we walked back a mile and then we hauled the other half up. So for every mile we gained to the south, we had to cover three to do it. And slowly we arose up the largest and the longest glacier in the world, some days spending 12 hours doing three miles, other times spending nearly half the day hauling the sledge up by means of the alpine ropes. And thus we went along, and thus we returned, having done a work that has resulted with great advantage to science, and for the first time returning without the loss of a single human life.

And throughout all this, I was helped by a party of men who were regardless of themselves and only thinking of the good of the expedition. I, Ernest Shackleton, have today, March the 30th, dictated this record.

Technician All right.

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All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions. All rights are reserved.

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