She’s going, boys!

Launching the James Caird, 24 April 1916

On 21st November 1915, following months of struggle against the implacable Antarctic ice, the crew of Endurance, led by the intrepid Sir Ernest Shackleton, witnessed the final sinking of their ship—a vessel that had promised passage across the continent. In his diary that night, Captain Frank Worsley’s described its final moments. The sinking of Endurance marked the beginning of an even more perilous chapter: the crew, now shipless, faced five harrowing months on an ice floe that was drifting northward. In April 1916, Worsley, Shackleton, and four other men embarked on an 800-mile voyage in the ship’s lifeboat, the James Caird, to seek rescue from South Georgia. This extraordinary journey would later be heralded as one of the greatest small-boat voyages of all time, a testament to their navigation skills, fortitude, and relentless hope in the face of almost certain doom.

The Diary Entry

November 21, 1915

This evening, as we were lying in our tents we heard the Boss call out, ‘She’s going, boys!’ We were out in a second and up on the look-out station and other points of vantage, and, sure enough, there was our poor ship a mile and a half away struggling in her death-agony. She went down bows first, her stern raised in the air. She then gave one quick dive and the ice closed over her for ever. It gave one a sickening sensation to see it, for, mastless and useless as she was, she seemed to be a link with the outer world.

Without her our destitution seems more emphasised, our desolation more complete. The loss of the ship sent a slight wave of depression over the camp. No one said much, but we cannot be blamed for feeling it in a sentimental way. It seemed as if the moment of severance from many cherished associations, many happy moments, even stirring incidents, had come as she silently up-ended to find a last resting-place beneath the ice on which we now stand. When one knows every little nook and corner of one’s ship as we did, and has helped her time and again in the fight that she made so well, the actual parting was not without its pathos, quite apart from one’s own desolation, and I doubt if there was one amongst us who did not feel some personal emotion when Sir Ernest, standing on the top of the look-out, said somewhat sadly and quietly, ‘She’s gone, boys.’ It must, however, be said that we did not give way to depression for long, for soon every one was as cheery as usual. Laughter rang out from the tents, and even the Boss had a passage-at-arms with the storekeeper over the inadequacy of the sausage ration, insisting that there should be two each ‘because they were such little ones,’ instead of the one and a half that the latter proposed.

Further Reading

Frank Worsley’s diary now lives at the New Zealand National Library. Entries from that diary can be found in South, a book by Ernest Shackleton that was published in 1919.


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