SS Endurance

The SS Endurance, originally named Polaris, was built in Norway in 1912. She was specifically designed for polar conditions:

Her keel members were four pieces of solid oak, one above the other, adding up to a thickness of 85 inches (2,200 mm), while its sides were between 30 inches (760 mm) and 18 inches (460 mm) thick, with twice as many frames as normal and the frames being of double thickness. She was built of planks of oak and Norwegian fir up to 30 inches (760 mm) thick, sheathed in greenheart, a notably strong and heavy wood. The bow, which would meet the ice head-on, had been given special attention. Each timber had been made from a single oak tree chosen for its shape so that its natural shape followed the curve of the ship’s design. When put together, these pieces had a thickness of 52 inches (1,300 mm).

Financial difficulties led the original owner to sell the ship – at a loss – to the Anglo-Irish Explorer, Ernest Shackleton, who renamed the ship after his family motto “Fortitudine vincimus” (By endurance we conquer).

In 1914, the Endurance entered Regent (sometimes named Regent’s) Dry Dock in Millwall, close to the end of Byng St, for refitting.


Shackleton, as a veteran of previous renowned explorations, and his ship attracted press attention, and many photos as a result.

In this photo, St. Luke’s Church is visible in the background. Closer by is Byng St where it meets West Ferry Rd.

Embed from Getty Images

The bow….

Embed from Getty Images

Shackleton himself…

Embed from Getty Images

Press reports of the day, and recent reports, talk of the SS Endurance leaving Millwall Docks at the start of expedition. It’s not clear to me if this is in error, or if indeed the ship did ceremoniously depart from the docks. Even more confusing, the following photo shows the Endurance outside the West India Dock Entrance and facing upstream.

Outside the entrance to West India Docks

This photo shows the SS Endurance sailing down the Thames after leaving the Island.


As for the expedition, it went terribly wrong. Not long after leaving South Georgia, progress was impeded by unexpected pack ice. By 24th January 1915, Endurance was icebound, and consequently drifted for months with the ice. From October the ice began to crush and sink the ship. Shackleton and five others took one of the ship’s lifeboats and sailed to South Georgia to obtain rescue for the rest of the crew.

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