Books & Literature

Book Review: The Ship Beneath the Ice, by Mensun Bound

BIOGRAPHY: As one of the world’s foremost experts on the Endurance, Bound includes previously untold stories of Ernest Shackleton’s epic survival and fascinating details about his iconic ship.

An incredible real-life tale of adventure on the high seas

Feature image credit: Pan Macmillan Australia

Born in the Falkland Islands, author Mensun Bound had always been fascinated by historic Antarctic explorations. Given Sir Ernest Shackleton’s association with South Georgia and the Falklands, Bound was particularly interested in the fate of the ship the Endurance and was the Director of Exploration on the 2019 and 2022 searches to locate the wreck.

The author writes in vivid detail of Shackleton’s mission to reach the South Pole. Sadly, on November 21,1915, after becoming trapped in sea ice and gradually crushed, his ship the Endurance disappeared under the ice in the Weddell Sea. The exact location of the sinking was unsure as poor visibility and bad weather had made Captain Frank Worsley’s final coordinates, at best, an estimate. Over a century of appalling weather, mountainous seas and shifting pack ice also contributed to doubts as to whether the proposed search area itself, calculated before the ship left South Africa, was correct.

The book takes the form of virtually parallel diaries – with descriptions, comments, and quotes from various diaries written by members of the Shackleton expedition and Bound’s own diaries, blogs, and social media from the 21st century explorations. Despite the vastly different technologies now available, the modern searchers encountered many problems which would have been familiar to the Endurance expedition. The failure of the 2019 exploration was largely caused by very heavy sea ice which delayed the mission and meant the search for a lost submersible vehicle, crucial to the main goal, had to be abandoned.

Finding open leads through the pack ice was clearly still problematic in the 21st century, with icebergs able to drift at up to 40 kilometres a day. Bound describes their own expedition sighting a mass of icebergs, almost 200, in the area where Shackleton’s party would have been drifting in their small boats after the Endurance sank, citing a diary entry from February 1916 noting that “[o]ver 100 bergs can be discerned with binoculars” (page 84).

Incredibly, Bound’s second expedition found the Endurance only four miles from Worsley’s last noted position, and within the designated search area, on 5 March, 2022, exactly 100 years to the day of Shackleton’s funeral on South Georgia. The book features photographs from the original expedition as well as of the wreck as it is today. It is in remarkably good condition, standing almost upright on the seabed with its name clearly visible. Under the international Antarctic Treaty, it is a designated Historic Site and Monument, permitting the wreck to be surveyed and filmed but not be touched or disturbed in any way.

The author has captured all the excitement, enthusiasm, and disappointments of the search for Shackleton’s fabled ship in his narrative, which reads like a boy’s (or girl’s) own adventure story. If you don’t already know the tale of the Endurance this book is a good introduction with an incredible conclusion.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: October 2022
RRP: $36.99

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