Plan to cross the Antarctic continent
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After Roald Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole in 1911, Shackleton turned his attention to planning an expedition to cross the unmapped continent of Antarctica.
In the prospectus for the proposed expedition, he wrote:
'From the sentimental point of view, it is the last great Polar journey that can be made. It will be a greater journey than the journey to the Pole and back, and I feel it is up to the British nation to accomplish this, for we have been beaten at the conquest of the North Pole and beaten at the conquest of the South Pole. There now remains the largest and most striking of all journeys — the crossing of the Continent.'
Funding the expedition
Shackleton estimated that he would need at least £60,000 to secure two ships, and two parties of men. The first ship would sail to the head of the Weddell Sea, and a team of men would start to cross the continent with dog teams. The second ship would travel to the Ross Sea and lay food depots to be collected by Shackleton and his men during the second half of the crossing.
In December 1913, the British Government agreed to give £10,000 towards the expedition, on the condition that an equivalent sum would be raised through private sponsorship. The Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition was officially announced at this time.
Shackleton's preferred method of fund-raising was to approach potential donors directly. He began this process in 1913, but with little initial success. However, after the Government promised £10,000, other donations were received during the spring and summer of 1914. The Royal Geographical Society gave £1,000, and other individual donors included Lord Rosebery, Dudley Docker of the Birmingham Small Arms Company, and Janet Stancomb-Will, a wealthy tobacco heiress.
Sir James Caird
The most significant donation was given by Sir James Key Caird, a jute manufacturer and philanthropist from Dundee, in June 1914. Shackleton had initially written to Caird, requesting a donation of £50, but Caird promised £10,000, which was later increased to £24,000. This amounts to many millions in today's money.
The three major private sponsors of the expedition — Stancomb Wills, Dudley Docker, and James Caird — all had lifeboats named after them. The James Caird played a central part in the expedition as events unfolded during 1915 and 1916. On 24 April 1916, Shackleton and five companions set sail from Elephant Island in the James Caird, heading 800 miles in treacherous seas towards South Georgia in order to seek help.
The other two lifeboats — the Stancomb Wills and the Dudley Docker — were repurposed as shelters for the men stranded on Elephant Island.