Westminster Abbey honours Sir Ernest Shackleton

Friday, 16th February 2024

The Princess Royal reveals a memorial to Ernest Shackleton as the Dean of Westminster watches

A memorial stone to Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the most celebrated Antarctic Explorers of the twentieth century, was dedicated at Westminster Abbey on Thursday 15th February 2024. The service was attended by HRH The Princess Royal, Patron of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

About the service

The service was led by the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, who welcomed the congregation to the Abbey.

Sir Ernest’s granddaughter, the Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, read a tribute.
Camilla Nichol, Chief Executive UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, read an excerpt from the poem The Ship of Fools by John Lucas; and Sir Ernest’s great-grandson, Patrick Bergel, read an excerpt from Shackleton’s poem L’Envoi.

Professor Joe Smith, Director of The Royal Geographical Society, gave a reading from Job 38; and Rear Admiral Nick Lambert, Chairman of the James Caird Society, read from Psalm 107.

The Princess Royal asked the Dean, on behalf of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, to take the memorial into the safe custody of the Abbey. Flowers were laid by Jonathan Shackleton, a cousin of Ernest Shackleton.

Prayers were led by the Reverend Mark Birch, Minor Canon and Precentor of Westminster.

A tribute to Sir Ernest’s Irish heritage

The new stone lies in the Abbey’s south cloister, close to a memorial to pioneering sailors Captain James Cook, Sir Francis Chichester and Sir Francis Drake.

The triangular shaped memorial, designed and made by sculptor Will Davies, reflects Shackleton’s preference to be at the apex of a triangle in group photographs. The memorial incorporates stones including Connemara marble and Kilkenny limestone to reflect Shackleton's Irish heritage. The names of Shackleton’s expedition ships, Nimrod and Endurance, are inscribed on the memorial, along with the lifeboat ‘The James Caird’, and the family motto:

‘FORTITUDINE VINCIMUS’ (‘By Endurance We Conquer’)

Sir Ernest’s life and legacy

Ernest Shackleton was born in Ireland in 1874 and moved to London as a boy. At the age of 16 he joined the Merchant Navy, qualifying as a master mariner in 1898. His most notable expedition was that of Endurance in 1914, where he hoped to achieve the first crossing of the White Continent from the Weddell Sea via the South Pole to the Ross Sea. Although he was unsuccessful in reaching the destination, the survival of his crew highlighted his exceptional leadership.

In the course of his career, Shackleton was awarded the Polar Medal, which is presented by the British monarch to recognise outstanding achievements in the field of the polar research; fourteen medals by other nations; and eighteen medals by geographical and learned societies. Shackleton is remembered as one of the key figures associated with the period known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. He died in 1922 at the age of 47.