This assembly tells the story of Shackleton’s endurance and leadership and explains why the descendants of the original team want to follow in his footsteps

In Shackleton’s footsteps

A descendant of Ernest Shackleton, the great Antarctic Explorer, is due to follow in his great-grandfather’s footsteps this year, 100 years to the day of his second Antarctic journey.

This map shows the route of Shackleton’s Antarctic journey. It also shows Britain to scale: this is useful in helping pupils understand that Shackleton’s men had walked the equivalent of virtually the length of Britain when they had to turn back just 97 miles from their goal

Antarctic facts

  • Summer temperature (December): 5°C to 10°C and 24 hours a day of sunlight.
  • Winter temperature (July): -80°C to -90°C – during winter the Antarctic is the coldest place on earth, with no daylight.
  • Snow reflects almost all of the ultraviolet light falling on it, so sunburn is a problem.
  • Mainly cold and dry, but snowfalls of up to 1.22 metres (48in) in 48 hours have been recorded.


Have you ever heard the expression “to follow in someone’s footsteps?” What do you think it means? [Take suggestions] That’s right. We use that expression when we’re talking about someone who is perhaps going to the same school as an older brother or sister, or a student who is going to the same college as a parent, or a person starting a job in the same profession as another member of the family.

Today’s true story is about a group of young men who are following in the footsteps of some remarkable people.

In Shackleton’s footsteps

Patrick Bergel and his friends are off an on adventure. [Show photograph]

They are travelling to the Antarctic. Who can tell me where that is? [Take suggestions]

That’s right. Another name for the Antarctic is the South Pole.

What do you think it’s like at the South Pole? [Take suggestions and show pictures]

That’s right: cold, snowy, 24 hours of sunshine in the summer and complete darkness in the winter and penguins go there to have their chicks in the summer.

Patrick and his friends are going to use skis to travel 97 miles across the snow and ice to the South Pole. 

That’s a strange distance, isn’t it, 97 miles? Why not 100 miles, which is a nice, round number? Why do you think they plan to travel 97 miles across the snow and ice to the South Pole? [Take suggestions]

Those are some good answers. The reason is because they’re following the footsteps of Patrick’s  great-grandfather, and famous Antarctic explorer, Earnest Shackleton. They’re following in his footsteps 100 years after he decided to walk to the South Pole – and no one had ever done it before

Shackleton’s story

Earnest Shackleton had a dream. He wanted to be the first person to walk to the South Pole. Here’s a picture of him and some of his team [show picture].

Shackleton’s first Antarctic expedition was in 1901. He travelled with another famous explorer, Robert Falcon Scott. They got within 500 miles of the South Pole – nearer than anyone else – but had to turn back because of bad weather.

Shackleton was determined to try again. He was a popular leader and liked to make his colleagues laugh. They called him ‘The Boss’ and would follow him anywhere. It took Shackleton five years to raise the money for another trip. In 1908 he led another party to conquer the South Pole.

The journey was named the Nimrod Expedition, after the boat they sailed in. ‘Nimrod’ is a word from the Bible that means ‘Hunter’ and in a sense that’s what Shackleton was doing: hunting the fame and fortune that would be bestowed on anyone who conquered the South Pole.

His first triumph was to be the first person in the world to climb the extinct volcano Mount Erebus. It gave his team a much-needed boost, because unexpected bad weather had made conditions very difficult. A bad snowstorm – a blizzard – had caused one of Shackleton’s men, Philip Brocklehurst, to get frostbite in his feet: his feet had become so cold that they had, literally, frozen. It was a serious blow.

The rest of the men carried on towards the South Pole. The weather was severe: temperatures fell fast and snow blew into their faces, almost blinding them, and their food was running out.

[Instant drama: encourage a few children to come up and mime trudging through a blizzard on skis]

Shackleton decided that the only sensible and safe thing to do was to turn back. He and his team were just 97 miles from the South Pole and had travelled nearer to it than any other people on the planet. So near and yet so far. Just 97 miles from their goal. He said, “Better a live donkey than a dead lion.”


Shackleton decided that he wanted to put the safety of his men ahead of his own personal fame and fortune. It was the right decision to make.

On 14 December 1911 the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole. Earnest Shackleton didn’t give up trying but he never did make it to the South Pole. He is remembered today as an extraordinary man and great leader.

The new trek will begin in October this year, exactly 100 years after the Nimrod expedition. Henry Worsley, Henry Adams and Will Gow are looking to re-trace the whole 900 mile journey to the South Pole on skis.

Patrick Bergel and Tim Fright will join them to travel those last 97 miles in memory of their ancestors, finally completing the journey to the destination that Shackleton and his team never reached.


Dear Father, Thank you for giving us people who inspire us. Help us to work hard to make our dreams come true.



Shackleton was a great leader: with that came great responsibility for the men who trusted him and followed him.

Things to think about…

Children can follow the team’s blog

The Shackleton Foundation

Older children will enjoy the TV film Shackleton that tells the story of the famous 1914-16 endurance expedition. Kenneth Branagh stars in the title role (2002).

Shackleton’s 10 steps to being a great leader

1. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal, and focus energy on short-term objectives.

2. Set a personal example with visible, memorable symbols and behaviours.

3. Instil optimism and self-confidence, but stay grounded in reality.

4. Take care of yourself: maintain your stamina and let go of guilt.

5. Reinforce the team message constantly: “We are one – we live or die together”.

6. Minimise status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.

7. Master conflict – deal with anger in small doses, engage dissidents, and avoid needless power struggles.

8. Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about.

9. Be willing to take the “Big Risk”.

10. Never give up – there’s always another move.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in May 2008

About the author: Jane West