Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Fate of the Dudley Docker and the Stancomb Wills

Sir Ernest Shackleton's famous little boat, the "James Caird" - in which he and five others sailed 800 miles to South Georgia Island to secure a rescue for the men of the Endurance - was restored and is on display at Dulwich College in London.

photo courtesy of

But what became of the other two boats, the "Dudley Docker" and the "Stancomb Wills," both named for patrons of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which were turned over to serve as shelter for the 22 men left behind on Elephant Island until they were rescued four months later?  There is no mention of the boats' recovery and I should think visitors to Elephant Island since then would certainly have made photographs of them if they were abandoned in place.  I've seen photos of Point Wild, on which stands a memorial, but there is no sign of the boats.  I've sent off a few missives to them as might know.  Time may tell.  If you know, please share details.  Thanks.

UPDATED TO ADD: I received two very detailed emails today from polar educator and logistician Alex Taylor of Endurance Designs (his historical products are sold at retail at Top of the World Books):

    "The short answer is that I don't know and can only speculate. If the two other lifeboats had been recovered at the time of the rescue by Shackleton, their location would [be] well known. I have always understood it that during the rescue of the remaining 22 men on Elephant Island, in 1916 with the Yelcho, there was intense time pressure to get the men off the island. They were worried that a wind shift would push the sea ice in and the Yelcho would get trapped (it was not an ice strengthened ship but a tug boat). Consequently they gathered their personal items in a rush and were ferried to the Yelcho as quickly as possible, likely in 2 or 3 boat loads.

     Elephant island is frequently visited every autumnal summer by the tourist ships but very rarely landed on. The ocean swell in the area of Point Wild is quite large. The spit of land closest to the island is very narrow. At high tide point Wild is an island now. A century of storms have eroded the beach the men camped on to such an extent that in the very near future Point Wild may become Wild Island. Also, the glacier that one sees in the background of a few of Hurley's photos has receded significantly (500m or more), which probably adds to the erosion dynamic as the glacier may have sheltered the point on one side to some extent.

     I have had the privilege of visiting Elephant Island 10 or more times in the last decade and only landed twice. Regardless, it is a truly "wild" and beautiful place, one of my favourites in Antarctica."

    "What I forgot to mention, but which may be self-evident, is that the 2 boats remaining on Elephant Island were most certainly destroyed by the tides and winter storms over the years. I think Elephant Island wasn't visited for many years (multiple decades) after the men were rescued. Although I don't know who did first visit the site in later years, there may have been some artifacts of the expedition, but they too are long gone."

Thank you, Alex!

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's a note from Stewart Hoagland, of the Oceanica Company, which built replicas of the three famous lifeboats for the IMAX movie Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure.  Even producing the film was exciting.  Mr. Hoaglund was at the helm of his reproduction of the Stancomb Wills when it was caught between shifting ice floes while filming - life imitates art imitating life:

    "They were left there. In only a few years the elements ground them to splinters and any bits of wood or fittings left were long since gathered up by visitors. I was there, there is only rock, ice, a bronze monument planted by the [Chileans] to celebrate the captain of the tug sent to retrieve Shackleton's men...and penguins."

Thanks, Stewart!

Shackleton's own book South, detailing the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from start to finish, is published in the public domain at several places on the web, such as Elegant eBooks and Project Gutenberg.  Toward the end of Chapter XII, there is a description of the long-awaited rescue of the men:

    "Soon we were tumbling into the boat, and the Chilian [sic] sailors, laughing up at us, seemed as pleased at our rescue as we were. Twice more the boat returned, and within an hour of our first having sighted the boat, we were heading northwards to the outer world..."

So, the 22 men were transported in three trips to the Yelcho on that ship's boat. Without any further mention the faithful "Dudley Docker" and "Stancomb Wills" passed into history...

Can You Spot the Peace Corps Volunteer in this Photo?

Our friends Matt and Alyssa are having a fine time in Fiji...

...especially now they have Milo the cat to keep the rats out of the rafters at night.  I envy them their adventure.  More details and photos here.

UPDATED TO ADD: No, the nice lady helping Matt with his bright red sash is not Alyssa.