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A sepia image of Ernest Shackleton and the crew of Endurance, standing on the ship with sails in the background

These resources for primary pupils compliment the online book resource ‘Shackleton’s Endurance’ which, tells the story of Shackleton’s famous Trans- Antarctica Expedition. On this expedition, Shackleton’s ship the Endurance was lost to the ice, yet Shackleton eventually got all of her crew home without a single loss of life. The book has six sections, and each is supported by a suite of teaching resources, teacher notes and ideas for assemblies.

The resources also draw on the contemporary Expedition ‘Endurance22’, sailing aboard the Agulhas II, with historian and media personality Dan Snow, which left Cape Town in February 2022 for the Weddell Sea to search for the wreck of Endurance. Through the ‘Parallel Lives’ strand, pupils can explore some of the differences between the two voyages, then and now.

There will be opportunities to dip in and sample resources from different lessons or start at the beginning and work your way through to build a coherent and longer unit of work. Ideas will be provided for both KS1 and KS2.

Abandon Ship!

Key Questions

  • Why did they need to abandon ship?

  • How did they spend their days?

  • Where did they sleep?

  • What happened to Endurance?

Getting Started

Recap the story so far. Section 4 tells the story from when Endurance first became ice bound as they travelled south. This happened in January 1915 and was quite possibly a combination of an error of judgment on Shackleton’s part, he had been warned that the ice had come early that year, and an unlucky combination of factors. As they travelled south, a NE gale had compressed the pack ice in the Weddell Sea and surrounded the Endurance. The crew hoped for a southerly gale but instead there was a period of calm and moderate winds and cold temperatures. The ice would not let them through. Although the crew kept watch for leads to open up in the pack ice that they could exploit, by mid-February Shackleton realised that it was a waste of energy and ordered that they would turn the ship into a winter camp and hope to be released when the spring came later in the year.

(Slides 3 and 4) Give a short introduction and then a timeline of this part of the story. Remind pupils that as this is the southern hemisphere the seasons are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere.

(Slide 5) A diagram of the Weddell sea showing the direction of sail that Endurance took from South Georgia and the direction of the gale that helped compress the pack ice together in the southerly part of the Weddell Sea. Pupils will be able to see from the diagram that as the ice was blown south by the gale, there was nowhere for it to escape because of the bowl-like shape of the Weddell Sea.

The Weddell Sea also has a strong circulation current known as a gyre which causes ice to drift slowly in a clockwise direction. This means that when Endurance was first beset by ice, it was much further south than where it finally sank.

From the timeline:

February 22, 1915. The Endurance reaches its Furthest South, 77 degrees S off Luitpold Land

Luitpold land is thought of as that portion of Coat’s Land on the eastern limit of the Filchner Ice Shelf. It is relatively close to the Hayes Glacier. A search for Hayes Glacier Antarctica using Google Earth with grid lines enabled will allow pupils to trace the 77 degrees south latitude across the Weddell sea in the right area and help them gauge how close Shackleton came to landing on the Antarctica continent. Use the Google Earth ruler to measure distances from this latitude to the edge of the continent. NB The ice shelves are not marked on the diagram

Possible Activities

Map diagrams

The photograph on (Slide 6) shows one of the last attempts by the crew to try and open up a pathway in the ice for Endurance before Shackleton orders them to stand down and switches from sea watches to a night watch rota, signalling the beginning of a winter encampment half on the ice and half on board the ship. Check pupils’ understanding of the story so far at this point. You could then return to the diagram of the Weddell Sea. Model how to draw this kind of  map by unpacking one factor at a time, so that pupils can have a go at this individually. Use atlases and / or digital maps to help them view the map context.

Ask pupils to check in an atlas or on a digital map or a globe, for the position of the Antarctic Circle at 66 degrees 34 minutes South. They could add this to their map diagram.

What is the Ritz?

(Slide 7) The Ritz hotel is shown. At the time of the expedition, it was a very fashionable and posh hotel in London, used by royalty and stars. Once Shackleton had decided to make the boat a winter base and allocated jobs and activities out to the crew, they fondly called their living quarters on board ‘The Ritz’. Ask pupils why they initially think this was. Was it because their boat was so posh inside like the Ritz or was it as a joke?

Before showing the subsequent photos of the crew’s everyday lives in this winter camp, ask pupils what they think the crew did for food, for warmth and for entertainment and other activities. Compile a list of possible suggestions that you can refer to as you examine the photographic evidence provided.

Using Photos

Explain that you are going to look at Hurley’s photographs showing everyday snaps of the crew’s lives and that you will need to be picture detectives, looking closely for things you can say with some certainly are true, based on the evidence. Discuss whether or not these photos from Hurley are likely to be a reliable source of evidence. As they were taken by a co – member who was photographing the journey, ‘warts and all’, it seems likely that they tell a very accurate story and are a lucky source of evidence for us to learn more about the expedition.

You can either look through some of all of the images as a class and discuss, or you could model an enquiry of one or two of the images before setting groups or pairs of pupils onto a particular picture enquiry. Worksheet 4.1 can be used to record thoughts about up to five photographs.


  1.  ‘The Scientists washing down the Ritz.” Living quarters in the hold with James Wordie, Alfred Cheetham and Alexander Macklin (left to right).

Shackleton believed everyone should be kept busy and there were round of chores to do to keep the ship tidy and clean. The fact that scientists are here cleaning and scrubbing floors suggests that no one was too goo to do menial tasks. We can see though that the men are warmly dressed in jumpers but do not have coats on, indicating that it was not that cold on board.

  1. Soccer game during a ‘hold up’ Worsley in goal.

It seems that this evidence shows that the men enjoyed games and recreation too. Playing football being one such activity. There is even a makeshift goal. Note the white background and snow foreground that looks very bleak.

  1. ‘Clark the Biologist’

One of the scientists shown here in the laboratory. The ship was clearly well equipped and there was research work to do as well as everyday domestic tasks. Clark has a lot of glass bottles – possibly to gather specimens?

  1.  Men playing games and reading an atlas. Winter 1915

There are many different activities happening here suggesting a diversity of leisure activities. Reading, playing a musical instrument, a board game and possibly a card game seem apparent in this image. Several men are smoking a pipe. There are also numerous hooks for clothes, suggesting that this part of the ship was kept tidy.

  1. A full dog team

Are the pupils surprised by this? When the ship set sail, they had on board 69 dogs of mixed breed, weighing about 45kg each (big dogs). Each dog was assigned to a member of the team.

Did you know … The dogs had names such as: Chips, Hercules, Judge, Roy, Samson, Satan, Shakespeare, Slippery Neck, Steamer, Stumps, Surly, Swanker, Upton, Wallaby.

When the ship was beset by ice and Shackleton ordered it to become a winter base, the dogs were moved off from the boat onto the ice where they lived in ‘Dog-loos’ or igloos for dogs. The dogs needed lots of exercise so Shackleton ensured that teams were made up for sledging and running, as best as they could on the hummocky ice. The dogs were originally put on board because Shackleton thought they would be useful in pulling the expedition sledges once on land.

  1. A morning in ‘The Ritz’ on board Endurance in midwinter June 1915

June is the middle of southern winter. You might discuss what the temperature was outside and inside and how in the middle of winter there would be darkness 24 hours a day. The men appear to be reading, mending or making. They all look occupied. Note that several of the photographs have dates attached so that you can chart the seasons change from January to November. This also provides a timeline to compare the condition of the crew as time goes on.

  1. ‘Hurley and Hussey engaged in a friendly tournament’

Here we see them playing chess. There is a plate of half eaten food with left over bread and two empty tins – one might be sardines. There is also a teapot and cups, and a lamp possibly fuelled with paraffin. The men certainly appear to be well fed at this point and there is ample food – enough to leave some on a plate!

  1. ‘Hussey and James taking observations’

The Meteorologist and Physicist here are working in their ships laboratory. It looks colder in this part of the ship and they are both wearing hats and gloves. Their equipment almost certainly included thermometers to measure temperature, a barograph to measure pressure and an anemometer to measure wind speed and direction. Hussey was almost certainly making very regular weather observations when they were first stuck in the ice and Shackleton would be looking for a sign thagt the wind direction or speed was changing.

Did you know … Dr L.D.A. Hussey, the meteorologist on 'Endurance' was a keen banjo player. His banjo was rescued from the ship before she sank. He would go on to play it later during morale-raising concert parties organised by the survivors while they awaited rescue on Elephant Island. The banjo was signed by expedition members.

  1. Hurley and Macklin at home’. In the Billabong; the only double cubicle, shared with Hussey and McIlroy

These were the sleeping quarters. When they turned the ship into winter quarters, Shackleton ordered that cabins be built between decks for warmth. In this cabin we can see a bed, books, a mirror, lamp and pictures. It looks quite welcoming and cosy.

  1. ‘Mid-winter Dinner’.

A large celebratory dinner with most if not all of the crew sitting down. This is mid winter and the crew has been stuck in the ice since January 1915 so it appears that the food stores are lasting well. They would still have had to gather fresh water each day  - melting snow and ice for example, and also catch fresh food such as seals. The records indicate that there were plenty of seals outside of the winter months for the taking. However, as winter approached, the seals migrated to warmer waters and their numbers declined. Such was the hunting activity though that a good store was built up and the ice kept the meat fresh.

  1. ‘The Night Watchman returns’

Each night someone would keep guard all night, keeping a look out fr cracks in the ice. Why do pupils think this was? Everyone probably took their turn to do this- ask if it is a job the pupils would want to do. Outside all night? In a cold Polar winter night? They must have needed lots of thawing out when they returned in the morning. In this photograph the mast is covered with ice.

  1. Hurley describes photographing the dogs

In another photograph of the dogs, we can see their makeshift kennels outside and one appears to be in a sling being weighed. Many of the dogs did become ill and began to lose weight. Unfortunately they had worms and no one brought worming powder. The men were obviously very fond of the dogs and spent a lot of time training them and caring for them but what kind of a life do pupils think it was for dogs?

  1. Endurance in the ice

This image shows the ship ghostly white as she lies caught in ice on August 1st 1915. The diary from McNish on the same day (slide 22) details how the pressure of the ice was building around the ship, causing it to eventually break up. The men were warned to be ready to leave with essential belongings at a moment’s notice.

How are you feeling?

A quick activity to prompt pupils to think about how members of the crew are feeling when this photograph was taken of them on the ice beside Endurance (Slide 23). The date is given as ‘probably September 1st 1915’ so they will have been on the ice since February, they have weathered an Antarctic winter and they know their boat is possibly breaking up. (Little do they know the order to ‘abandon ship’ will come just weeks later.) But they still may have hope at this point. Either virtually or using paper and display materials, create thought bubbles over the heads of the crew and ask everyone in class to either contribute a one word emotion, or compose a thought bubble. Use this as part of a class display.

Abandon Ship!

The boat creaked for several weeks until eventually it began to splinter from the pressure of the ice and water seeped in. The order was finally given: ‘Abandon Ship!’. Shackleton told his crew to select only what they needed and could carry. They would need to march across the ice floes. Ask pupils to imagine they are one of the crew and this fateful day eventually happens and the ship begins to break up. They have to run for their lives but what essentials would they take with them from their cosy cabins that would be light yet useful? In 1915 they did not have lightweight technical winter clothing! Ask pupils to imagine themselves in character as one of the crew (see the full list on slide 24) and pack a virtual bag using worksheet 4.2 (KS1) or write a short diary account of this night explaining what they decided to take and why. Use slide 22 for inspiration and pupils could add a sketch showing the ship breaking up in the ice (KS2).

The last sighting of the Endurance

When the boat was finally crushed and broken by the ice, Hurley stayed close to get the last shots of her above the water.

Taking it further

  • Hurley’s photography is quite spectacular in this bleak landscape. Create paintings or drawings using white on black, of the ghostly ice -rimed ship in the snow and winter blackness. (Slide 21 / photograph 13)

  • Then and Now: watch the short video clip as Dan Snow revisits the ice floes where Shackleton lost the Endurance in 1915.

  • Make comparisons between the equipment and conditions in 1915 and what is available now. Some of the clues are given in the dialogue as well as imagery of the film. Get pupils to listen and jot down ideas to feed back after watching the clip.

  • Write a job advert for an explorer / reporter to accompany Dan to Antarctica. What knowledge and skills would you need? Write a kit list too for the ‘winning’ job seeker.


  • anemometer

  • barograph

  • gyre

  • latitude

  • meteorologist

  • thermometer

Curriculum Links

Key stage 1

Pupils should develop knowledge about the world, the United Kingdom and their locality. They should understand basic subject-specific vocabulary relating to human and physical geography and begin to use geographical skills, including mapping, to enhance their locational awareness.

Pupils should be taught to:

Locational knowledge

  •  name and locate the world’s seven continents and five oceans

Human and physical geography

  •  Identify the location of hot and cold areas of the world in relation to the Equator and the North and South Poles.

  • use basic geographical vocabulary

  • understand that there are different patterns of weather associated with seasons.

Key Stage 2

Locational knowledge

  • locate the world’s countries,

  • identify the position and significance of latitude, longitude, Equator, Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere, Arctic and Antarctic Circle.


Key stage 1

Pupils should develop an awareness of the past, using common words and phrases relating to the passing of time.

  • know where the people and events they study fit within a chronological framework and identify similarities and differences between ways of life in different periods.

  • use a wide vocabulary of everyday historical terms.

  • ask and answer questions, choosing and using parts of stories and other sources to show that they know and understand key features of events.

  • understand some of the ways in which we find out about the past and identify different ways in which it is represented.

Pupils should be taught about:

  • events beyond living memory that are significant nationally or globally

  • the lives of significant individuals in the past who have contributed to national and international achievements. Some should be used to compare aspects of life in different periods.

Key Stage 2

Pupils should continue to develop a chronologically secure knowledge and understanding of British, local and world history, establishing clear narratives within and across the periods they study. They should note connections, contrasts and trends over time and develop the appropriate use of historical terms. They should regularly address and sometimes devise historically valid questions about change, cause, similarity and difference, and significance. They should construct informed responses that involve thoughtful selection and organisation of relevant historical information. They should understand how our knowledge of the past is constructed from a range of sources.

Pupils should be taught about:

  • a study of an aspect or theme in British history that extends pupils’ chronological knowledge beyond 1066

Links to other Areas of learning

English: speaking and listening, opportunities for reports, creative writing and descriptive writing, diaries, letters, lists and labels.

Mathematics: opportunities to measure, record, and to create and present data

Art and Design: know how art and design both reflect and shape our history, and contribute to the culture, creativity and wealth of our nation. Develop own ideas and techniques for drawing and painting.

Web Links


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Part 4: Abandon Ship! - worksheet 2 (1)


33 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - worksheet 1 (1)


96 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - Assembly


127 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship!


3 MB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - Teacher Notes (1)


116 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship!


12 MB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - Then and Now


62 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - worksheet 2


78 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - worksheet 1


15 KB

Part 4: Abandon Ship! - Teacher Notes


114 KB

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