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Elephant Island 1916

The boat shelter on Elephant Island©

After landing on Elephant Island on 15 April 1916, Shackleton’s men found that their safe haven lay below the high-water mark. A combination of poor location and bad weather meant there were several failed attempts at creating durable shelter before the men built a hut out of two of the lifeboats.

Hurley photographed Shackleton’s preparations to leave Elephant Island aboard the James Caird. Shackleton and five others set out on an epic journey across the sea to South Georgia, an incredible feat of navigation. Once he had reached South Georgia, Shackleton made his way to the whaling station to get help for the men stranded on Elephant Island.

The men left behind survived on a diet of penguin and seal, and their chief topic of conversation was food. The hut became black with blubber smoke; the shingle floor became a mess of mud, blubber and other waste. But the hut provided shelter until 30 August, when Shackleton returned to rescue them aboard the Chilean ship Yelcho.

Hurley took these final photographs with a pocket camera, the only one that he had saved from the Endurance, and three rolls of film. The images are as a result rougher and more grainy than his other work, which is in keeping with the difficult conditions that the men had to endure.

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