Sir Ernest Shackletons Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1917 is remembered for one of the great feats of human daring and valour. Attempting to sail across the Weddell Sea, the expedition ship Endurance became trapped in pack ice, eventually disintegrating in October 1915. The dramatic escape of the crew is the stuff of legend. The expeditions official photographer, Australian Frank Hurley, captured life on board the stricken vessel and the ships final hours. A newly discovered rare presentation album of Hurleys Photographs of Scenes and Incidents in Connection with the Happenings to the Weddell Sea Party is offered at Bonhams
Travel and Exploration Sale in London on Wednesday 26 February. Consigned by a private owner in the UK, it is estimated at £30,000-40,000.
Frank Hurley joined the Shackleton expedition as the official photographer in 1914, having gained experience with Douglas Mawsons 1911-14 Australasian Antarctic Expedition. After Endurance became immobilised in the frozen Weddell Sea, he photographed the daily life of the crew as they awaited developments. It was hoped that seasonal weather changes would warm the sea sufficiently to allow the ship to float free, but before this could happen Endurance gradually and inexorably buckled under the pressure of the ice. Hurley spent the last three days of the ships life photographing the unfolding drama from every angle.
The unavoidable decision to abandon ship presented Hurley with an unenviable task. With a long march ahead into an uncertain future, weight was at a premium and he was forced to destroy 400 plates to lessen the load. (It could have been worse; Mrs Chippy, the ships cat had to be shot). Of the 120 plates that were carried to safely, 79 were used to produce the carbon prints in the presentation album, only six other copies of which are known to exist. (One copy was presented to King George V immediately after Hurley returned to England). Hurley later used the material to produce lantern slides for lectures and a documentary film, South, in 1919.
Bonhams Head of Books, Manuscripts and Photographs, Matthew Haley said: The fate of Endurance and the crews astonishing and tortuous journey back against all the odds is rightly seen as a testament to the human spirit under extreme pressure. Hurleys images convey the terrible situation in which the men found themselves, and have come to define the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration as it drew to a close.
Frank Hurley (1885-1962) was one of Australias greatest photographic pioneers. In addition to his work in the Antarctic, he also produced many memorable images as an official photographer with the Australian forces during both World Wars. He was an acclaimed documentary and feature filmmaker.