The British Antarctic ‘Nimrod’ Expedition 1907-1909

Having travelled to Antarctica with Scott during his ‘Discovery’ Expedition, the British Antarctic Expedition was the first expedition led by Ernest Shackleton. With the aim of conquering both the geographical South Pole and South Magnetic Pole, Nimrod sailed from New Zealand on 1 January 1908. Shackleton had originally intended to use the area where Scott’s ‘Discovery’ Expedition had been based to launch his attempts on the poles, but Scott had pressured Shackleton to look elsewhere for his quarters, claiming the area as his research zone. However, on arrival at what they named the Bay of Whales on 21 January 1908, they found ice conditions unstable and a search for a safe anchorage at King Edward VII Land proved equally difficult. Shackleton was therefore forced to break his promise to Scott and headed for McMurdo Sound, arriving on 29 January. Attempts to reach Hut Point were stopped by ice, and Shackleton eventually established his base at Cape Royds, about twenty-four miles north of Hut Point, landing on 3 February. By 22 February all stores had been unloaded and Nimrod sailed north, with construction of the hut complete by the end of February.

Mount Erebus

Shortly after their arrival an attempt at climbing Mount Erebus was made by Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson and Alistair McKay. Beginning on 5 March 1908, the party reached the summit by 9 March and carried out several meteorological experiments and collected rock samples. By 11 March the party had returned to Cape Royds. Most of the winter was spent in the hut carrying out preparatory work for the upcoming sledging expeditions, due to take place in the spring.


Great Southern Journey

Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams set on the ‘Great Southern Journey’ in an attempt to reach the South Pole on 29 October 1908. By 9 January 1909, with the ponies long dead the party had reached a new furthest south record at 88°23’S, only 97.5 geographical miles from the South Pole. They had discovered and named the Beardmore Glacier and become the first people to see and travel on the South Polar Plateau. Forced to turn back at this point, the return journey was made on half-rations and in record time, to ensure they caught Nimrod who was ordered to leave by 1 March. Eventually reaching Hut Point on 28 February, and by 4 March the whole team were aboard and on their way home.

The Northern Party

Whilst Shackleton was trying to reach the South Pole, David led a Northern Party consisting of himself, Mawson and McKay to Victoria Land to carry out magnetic and geological work and try to reach the South Magnetic Pole. Setting out on 5 October 1908, the party reached the Magnetic South Pole on 17 January 1909. Facing a return journey of 290 miles and with just fifteen days to meet Nimrod, they reached the rendezvous on 2 February, but Nimrod passed them that night in heavy drifting snow. Two days later, Nimrod turned south again and the group was seen and able to scramble aboard.

Returning to New Zealand

With all crew onboard, Nimrod returned to New Zealand on 23 March 1909, where Shackleton cabled an exclusive report to the London Daily Mail. Shackleton returned to the United Kingdom in June as a hero, and was knighted and made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, as well as being awarded a gold medal by the Royal Geographical Society. Whilst the furthest south record was to stand for less than three years, Shackleton achieved great acclaim for his achievements.


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