An account of an epic journey
'I can talk much better than I write'
— Ernest Shackleton in a letter to his wife Emily, 4 March 1919.
Shackleton's account of his Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition, 'South' was meant to be a factual record of the epic journey.
It was published in 1919, three years after he returned from Antarctic and it's rarely been out of print since.
The book was ghostwritten by New Zealand journalist Edward Saunders who had also helped Shackleton write 'The Heart of the Antarctic', an account of his 1907-1909 Nimrod expedition. 'South' was dictated to Saunders but his contribution was so significant that Shackleton had wanted to put his name alongside his own on the title page.
Although he wrote much of the text himself after listening to Shackleton Saunders' wrote: 'My work was complimentary to his'.
The book also includes substantial quotations from the diaries of other expedition members. He had made them pledge to assign their copyright to him before they left.
Unlike Robert Falcon Scott, Shackleton wasn't a natural writer as he once confessed to his wife Emily in a letter, part of which is quoted above. His writing never came to be regarded as national treasures in the way Scott's Diaries did.
When Scott set off on his second Antarctic expedition in the summer of 1910 backed by a government grant of £20,000, Shackelton was left behind saddled with personal financial problems. By the time news reached Great Britain that Amundsen had reached the pole (ahead of Scott) on 14 December 1911, having taken months for news to filter through, all of Shackleton financial schemes had come to nothing and he was leading an unsettled life.
By 1913 the whole country was grieving after news that Scott and his companions had perished on their way back from the South Pole. The publication of another book 'Scott's last expedition' again put Shackleton's achievements in the background, showing Scott to be a national hero.
The publication of 'South'
In early December of 1913 Shackleton's mood was lifted when Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer promised him £10,000 to finance his 'Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition' if he could raise a matching sum. Shackleton claimed that he had a promise of funds from a 'Mr Alfred Harvey'. No documentary evidence of this has been found, but this is the point where the story of 'South' begins.
The book starts with a Preface specifically acknowledging his sponsors, then proceeds to a chronological account of the epic voyage written after Shackleton's return.
Shackleton never received any profits from the book, even though it sold well. This was because he was forced to sign over the rights to the heirs of Sir Robert Lucas-Tooth, who loaned the expedition a substantial sum but was never paid back. Lucas-Tooth died in 1915, but his estate executors demanded repayment from Shackleton. Lacking funds, Shackleton had offered the only financial asset he had.
'South' was published after the First World War ended. The dedication in the book reads: 'To my comrades who fell in the white warfare of the South, and on the red fields of France and Flanders'.