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Mr. Shackleton in London

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Mr. Shackleton in London is an article published in The Times on 16 june 1909.

Report of the Luncheon in honour of Ernest H. Shackleton, leader of the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 at The Royal Societies Club on 15 june 1909 where Arthur Conan Doyle gave a speech about moral and mental qualities of Shackleton.

Mr. Shackleton in London

The Times (16 june 1909, p. 10)

The Royal Societies Club gave a luncheon yesterday in honour of Mr. Ernest H. Shackleton, leader of the British Antarctic Expedition, 1907-9. Lord Halsbury, F.R.S., president of the club, was in the chair, and in addition to the principal guest there were present:—

The Norwegian Minister, Prince Ronald Bonaparte (President Société de Géographie de France), Archbishop Maclagan, the Bishop of Barking, the High Commissioner for the Australian Commonwealth (Captain R. Muirhead Collins), the High Commissioner for New Zealand (the Hon. W. Hall-Jones), Lord Iveagh, Lord Montagu, Lord Howard de Walden, Sir Charles Dilke, M.P., Admiral Sir Albert Markham, Rear-Admiral A. M. Field (Hydrographer of the Navy), Admiral Sir Lewis A. Beaumont, Sir David Gill, Professor A. M. Worthington, Dr. A. M. W. Downing (editor of the "Nautical Almanac"), Major Leonard Darwin (President Royal Geographical Society), Sir Conan Doyle, Mr. D. Lewis-Poole (founder of the club), Mr. T. G. Jackson, R. A., Mr. Max Pemberton, Captain R. F. Scott, R.N. (commander of the National Antarctic Expedition, 1900-4), Mr. Fabian Ware, Dr. G. Marconi, Sir G. Taubman Goldie, Mr. Thomas Bryant, Professor R. A. Gregory, Dr. J. Scott-Keltie, Mr. Kennedy Jones, Dr. Glazebrook, Dr. Usher, Sir G. M. Le Sage, Mr. F. Hinde, Captain W. Windham, Mr. Charles Rolls, Sir Francis Vane, and Mr. W. Heinemann. The following members of the expedition were present:— Sir Philip Brocklehurst, Lieutenant J. B. Adams, R.N.R., Dr. E. Marshall, Messrs. F. Wild, R. L. A. Mackintosh, Ernest Joyce, B. Armytage, R. E. Priestley, and Dr. Forbes Mackay.


After the toast of "The King," LORD HALSBURY gave that of "Mr. Ernest Shackleton and his Companions." He said that this occasion was one of congratulation to them all. The distinguished gentleman whom they were entertaining could require no higher testimony of the esteem in which he would he held by his countrymen in the future than the presence there that afternoon of so many men who were eminent in every department of science, art, and literature. They must all congratulate Mr. Shackleton on the perils which he had escaped, but it was not certain that he ought not to be warned of the perils which were in store for him. (Laughter.) It was not probable that he would suffer from starvation. (Laughter.) In view of what Mr. Shackleton had gone through, it was impossible to believe in the supposed degeneration of the British race; and he was glad that the people of this country had not lost all sense of admiration for courage, endurance, tact, and what Captain Marryat described as comprehending a good many of these qualities, conduct. It must be to Mr. Shackleton a great gratification to see around him not only those who were bound to him by personal affection, but also these who had shared his dangers and shared also his success. He had accomplished without loss of life that which had been attempted over and over again and not always with such immunity. What Mr. Shackleton had done had been done with limited means and with very few assistants. His feat had been accomplished in an old whaler of little more than 200 tons and with but 14 companions. It was one of the characteristics of great men — and their guest would he recollected as is great man when all the people in that room had passed away (cheers) — that they had been able to accomplish great things with small means. (Renewed cheers.)

The toast was honoured with great enthusiasm.


Mr. SHACKLETON, who was received with cheers, said he and his companions had already received a welcome in Australia and New Zealand which gave them a foretaste of what they might expect in the old country. In attempting to respond to the toast he felt what Keats described as "the dearth of human words and roughness of human speech." There were in that room those who had gone with him through the difficulties and the successes of the expedition; and though no fierce lime-light of publicity beat upon them, the expedition would never have been such a success if it had not been for their denial of self and their single-hearted devotion to the object in view. (Cheers.) He was pleased to see there also many who had assisted the expedition in its beginnings. The confidence of friends at home had been the greatest incentive the members of the expedition had had "down South," and if they had done something towards what they had wanted to do, it had only been their duty towards those at home who believed in them. There had been miraculous escapes and a time when they saw no light on the way ahead and all seemed black. Yet at the worst moment all things turned out for the best. He must ascribe that now as he did then to a Higher Power than our own. No amount of leadership would have helped them as they were helped when the days were such that they never knew whether the next would bring forth a day for them or a death. It was fitting and right, and only his duty, there amongst his friends, to say that the members of the expedition believed in that Higher Power now that they were safe home again. (Cheers.) Science knew no country, and there were at that luncheon gentlemen from other countries besides England. A French Antarctic expedition was now wintering in the coldest and darkest time of the year, and the thoughts of English explorers must go out in sympathy to those men, whom they all wished every success. (Cheers.) There was the question of the future. It was hard to say what the future would bring forth. When once men had been out beyond those parts of the world which were known to men there, was an indescribable call to their hearts to return — a call more appealing than that of London or of the pleasures and luxuries of life. He had spoken to his companions since they had been back in this country, and he had found that they were tired of it and ready to go back to the Antarctic. (Laughter and cheers.) It might be his good fortune before long to go south again. While it was still early to talk of that, he trusted that whatever expedition went out nest would be a British expedition. If he had the honour and privilege of leading it, he hoped it would be composed of the men who, regardless of self, had helped him to do the work which had been accomplished in the Nimrod. He knew those men would follow him, for there was in the ice and in the wild that "luring of the little voices" of which the Canadian poet spoke:—

"They're wanting me, they are calling me, the awful lonely places;
They are whining, they are whimpering, as if each had a soul;
They are calling from the wilderness, the vast and God-like spaces,
The stern and sullen solitudes that sentinel the Pole."

Every expedition that went out was a pioneer for another expedition. The experience which he had gained under Captain Scott (cheers) had been in-valuable to him, for Captain Scott's expedition had pioneered over the barrier, under the stress and strain inseparable from pioneer work. It was owing to the knowledge which he had gained under Captain Scott that he had been able to push the British flag a little further south. (Cheers.)

Sir CONAN DOYLE proposed the toast of "The Royal Societies Club," and said it was often asked in this utilitarian age, "What is the good?" — as if every noble deed were not its own justification, as if every action which led to self-denial, endurance, and hardihood were not the most precious object-lesson to mankind. We lived in days of naval stress. When the trouble came our cry would be for men, not ships. We could pass the eight Dreadnoughts if we were sure of the eight Shackletons. Had it not been the lesson of our history that strong men in weak ships were better than weak men in strong ships? Money could buy a Dreadnought; two years could fashion it; but it took all time to fashion those moral and mental qualities which built up the great sailor or explorer. We were not sure of our ships, but we were sure of the spirit of our sailors — that was eternal. (Cheers.)

Sir CLEMENTS MARKHAM, vice-president of the club, responded, and said the achievement of Mr. Shackleton had aroused the admiration and astonishment of the civilized world. There were only four men in the world who had faced three Antarctic winters, and of those four three were present at that luncheon — Mr. Shackleton, Mr. Ernest Joyce, and Mr. Frank Wild. The fourth was Louis Bernacchi.

Mr. MAX PEMBERTON proposed the toast of "The Chairman," and LORD HALSBURY briefly replied.

In the evening Mr. Shackleton and his comrades were the guests of Mr. W. Heinemann at a private dinner at the Savoy Hotel. A large and representative company was present, and after dinner there was a cinematographic display illustrating various phases of the Antarctic Expedition, accompanied by a running explanation from Mr. Shackleton.