The fifth part of the book starts off with the men having just stepped foot on Elephant Island. The mood is interesting though. Because of the hardships they endured on the water, the men are quiet, perhaps somber, at the beginning of their stay on the island. Their exhaustion was probably beyond what anyone in our class could ever possibly conceive. Arriving at the island was not the last task though, they still had to find a suitable location to set up their camp. Shackleton allowed them the luxury of sleeping and eating, for the sake of gaining back some lost strength, but after a survey of the area it was decided that their current location would not fare them well and so they needed to find a more suitable place to set up camp.
Even after moving to a new location the men became aware that the island most likely did not possess a location that could be labeled as “hospitable”. Regardless, the men found the best that they could and chose a spot where they would be able to hunt penguins. It seemed that their new camp would at least be survivable despite its inhospitable conditions and harsh weather.
With life on the floes over and an uncertain future unfolding for the men on Elephant Island, Shackleton knew it was time to develop a plan to push further and find help. On April 20, Shackleton settled on the decision that some of the men would take the Caird, which was the most sea-worthy of their three vessels, and fight the seas to reach South Georgia. In choosing this destination they would be embarking on a voyage through seas that were considered to be some of the stormiest known to man. Shackleton chose only five of the men to make the trip with him:
Worsley for his navigational skills, which were absolutely necessary;
Crean for his “rough, tactless nature” and history;
McNeish and Vincent, to avoid their causing trouble among the men staying behind;
and, McCarthy who was chosen simply for his experience and build, which was described as being “like a bull”.
The coming days were spent building a shelter and helping Shackleton and the other men chosen to seek help prepare to leave. During this period of preparation, Shackleton pragmatically and realistically took measures to guide the future of the men in the event of his failure to reach South Georgia. In Hurley’s journal, he made a statement that would leave Hurley in charge of the photographic materials that resulted from the trip. Hurley, along with Lees, were left knowing that if the men did not make it South Georgia they would be responsible for taking charge of future rescue as well as the on island responsibilities that Shackleton was leaving behind. Shackleton also wished that these two write the book outlining their journey (Interestingly, the acknowledgements section at the end of the book mention Macklin as what appears to be the major contributor to Lansing’s book).
Aside from Vincent and McNeish falling into the water and narrowly avoiding the loss of a tankard of water, parting was done as swiftly as they could. Cheers and shouting were exchanged as the Caird was setting off, but the men on the island soon began to think of their helplessness and the long wait that laid ahead of them. As always, the crew maintained a sense of confidence foreign to the average person. One of the first things the men did was convert the boats into a hut.
Island life was made no easier after the Caird’s departure. As Macklin wrote: “Fate seemed absolutely determined to thwart us.” Even under such adverse conditions, the men lived as best they could. The hut provided the opportunity to take care of some of the medical ailments of the men. Notably, Macklin and McIlroy spent much time performing medical duties. Greenstreet had frostbite on his feet which required him to remain in his sleeping bag. They pulled on of Kerr’s teeth. Rickenson slowly recovered from the heart attack he had suffered on arrival to the island. Wordie faced an infected hand. However, two cases in particular were quite nasty and had to be dealt with on the island. First, Blackboro faced amputation surgery, during which his only anesthesia was chloroform. Hudson’s pain in his butt had become a nasty abssess that, once dealt with, produced more than two pints of “foul-smelling liquid”. These are procedures that done today would cause a person to cringe and dread. The attitude of these men to put all else aside and do what must be done is most admirable.
Much of the life was mundane and filled with anxious waiting. The men experienced huge ups and downs in morale – the stability of the past was no longer apparent. They did whatever they could to pass the time until, hopefully, Shackleton would return with the rescue they needed. Running out of tobacco, conditions inside their cramped hut, and wondering if and when Shackleton would return made life all the more harder.
Their life on this island astounds me. I’m not even sure how to relate this experience to the readings from our textbook, these experiences are beyond the normal study of human motivation. Again, this is a question of survival. What else could they possibly have done besides survive?