Last Chance To See: An Antarctic Adventure In South Ken

Shackleton and Hurley, Royal Geographical Society ★★★★☆

By M@ Last edited 35 months ago
Last Chance To See: An Antarctic Adventure In South Ken Shackleton and Hurley, Royal Geographical Society 4

One of the greatest survival stories in human history played out across Antarctica a century ago. 28 men survived a year and a half among the frozen foothills and treacherous floes of the southern continent, after their ship was squeezed to splinters by the ice.

Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated trans-Antarctic Expedition is awe-inspiring however you look at it. The Royal Geographical Society's show, which closes at the end of this month, presents the epic tale with a panache that brings a lump to the throat.

Perhaps sensing that most visitors will already be familiar with the adventure, there's little in the way of background info. Instead, the story is told through diary extracts and the astounding photography of Frank Hurley.

It's a wonder that we have any shots of the expedition at all. Stranded on the ice, with no immediate prospect of rescue, it must have been tempting to ditch the tech and get on with basic survival. But Hurley's shots — particularly the famous illuminated photos of the doomed, ice-trapped ship Endurance — are magnificent. Here we see over 90 images, charting the mission from its opening optimism, through the loss of the ship, to the desperate travails over land and water.

The exhibition inevitably peters out towards the end. Hurley was running out of film, and had other priorities. But the diary extracts still give a powerful conclusion to the story, recounting the eventual rescue. Imagine the men's horror, having been isolated so long, to hear about the bloody progress of the First World War. It's a pity there isn't room here to display the James Caird lifeboat, which carried Shackleton and a few hands to their rescuers — that can be seen at Dulwich College — but you can't have everything.

Enduring Eye: The Antarctic Legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton and Frank Hurley is at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, South Kensington until 28 February, 10am-5pm. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 14 February 2016