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15 Great polar expeditions

Poets, polar bears and a dangerous way to pay the bills

by Jamie Skey


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The history of man and woman’s exploration of the North and South Pole is intensely inspiring. From the 19th century, heroic explorers have proved that humankind has a fire inside that can overcome the most inhospitably freezing regions. Some polar expeditions have ended euphorically, others tragically. Yet all have proved that refusing to admit defeat can result in amazing feats of human endurance. Here is our pick of some of the most amazing.

Ross, Sir James Clark (1800-62)

Sir James Clark Ross had intrepidity in his blood. Tutored by his uncle, Sir John Ross, a Scottish Arctic explorer, he entered the navy at the tender age of 11. In 1818 the pair boldly went in search of the Northwest Passage.

Sir James later studied Eskimo life while on several Arctic voyages between 1819 and 1827 with Sir William Edward Parry. In a further expedition (1829-1833) with his uncle, he discovered the north magnetic pole, the point at which the Earth’s magnetic pole points downwards vertically. In specially strengthened ships, namely Erebus and Terror, Ross reached further south than anyone hitherto.

Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922)

Rebelling against his father’s wishes to become a doctor, Irish explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton joined the merchant navy at 16 with a view to explore the poles.

In 1914, on his third trip to the Antarctic, his ship became trapped in ice, and finally sank. The crew was forced to live on floating ice sheets. Shackleton took five crew members in April 1916 to save them, and after voyaging 1,300 KM of ocean in 16 days, all members of the expedition were saved.

Evidently, Shackleton was a poet too: “We had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”

Sir William Edward Parry (1893-1972)

Bath born Sir William Edward Parry was a contemporary of Sir John Ross. In 1818 he received command of the brig Alexander in the Arctic expedition under Ross. This expedition returned unsuccessful but Parry, confident, as he expressed it, "that attempts at Polar discovery had been hitherto relinquished just at a time when there....

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Comments (4)

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Anthony Wilks


More than I could do



I'm going to do this one day!



Oh, yet again I'm a little disapointed in Top Gear! Great artical.

iain maciver


this would be an amazing adventure if you are brave enough to suffer the cold

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