A Pilgrimage To the Grave OF Sir Ernest Shackleton
“I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost to achieve his life’s set prize.” -Robert Browning
On the outskirts of the now-abandoned King Edward Cove whaling station, lies the Grytviken cemetery. This lonely little piece of South Georgia Island real estate is the final resting place of 64 souls; mostly Norwegian whalers and sealers, plus an Argentine soldier killed during the Falkland War, and the mortal remains of the great Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Sir Ernest Shackleton is known simply and lovingly by all who wander about the face of this planet as “The Boss.” He had died here at the Grytviken whaling station while on his 4th polar expedition to the Antarctic continent in 1922. Although arrangements had been made by the Governor of the island to return his body to England, the explorer’s widow felt the great man would be happier to live out eternity at this this isolated sub-Antarctic island that had played such a huge part of his legacy.
The expedition’s doctor, Alexander Macklin agreed with the widow’s request: “I think this is as ‘the Boss’ would have had it this way himself, standing lonely in an island far from civilisation, surrounded by stormy tempestuous seas, and in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits.
And paying homage to the boss (consuming a manly-sized drink of Irish whiskey for yourself –Old Bushmills was Shackleton’s favorite brand–and then pouring a generous portion of the sacred liquid upon the great explorer’s mortal remains) is a must for stop for the few military vessels and adventure cruise ships that take the effort to travel to this hauntingly beautiful, but isolated part of the world!
I had the solemn honor of attending one of these tributes in March, 2016, while part of a 5,700 mile expedition sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of South America to Capetown, South Africa at the tip of the African Continent.
As one looks at the graves of all of the departed whalers and sealers, the first thing you notice is that they are kept painted an emaculate white with their name plaques flush with the ground; all of them pointing westward toward their homes. The one exception is, of course, Sir Ernest’s.
His grave marker is made of chiseled, grey, Scottish granite, is four feet tall, and the burial itself is orientated south and northward in honor of his polar exploits and adventures. On the back side of the stone is a verse by the English poet, Robert Browning: “I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost to achieve his life’s set prize.”
Near the top of the front of the stone is what we would call in today’ marketing lingo, his personal logo: A nine-pointed star. Eight of the points, of course, refer to the eight cardinal directions of the compass. The ninth points toward that as-yet-discovered destination that all of us travelers who are embarked upon this journey we all call “Life” are heading.
As the great man very likely would have preferred, his grave is guarded today only by albatrosses, elephant and fur seals and the occasional passing groups of chattering king penguins.