Sir Ernest Shackleton

On 15th February 2024 a memorial for Sir Ernest Shackleton CVO, sailor and polar explorer, was unveiled by The Princess Royal in the south cloister of Westminster Abbey. The memorial was designed by Will Davies and is placed next to the memorial to three circumnavigators of the globe, Sir Francis Drake, James Cook and Sir Francis Chichester. It is made of white Italian Carrera marble, green Connemara marble and Kilkenny limestone and is in a shape representing a ship, with a circular globe relief of the area of Antarctica. In the centre the inscription reads:

Sir Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic Explorer 1874-1922

Around the rim are the names of his ships: Nimrod, Endurance, The James Caird, Aurora, Quest, and at the base is his motto "Fortitudine Vincimus" (We Conquer by Endurance). 

His life

Sir Ernest was born on 15th February 1874 in co. Kildare in Ireland, a son of Henry (1847-1921), physician, and his wife Henrietta (Gavan). The family moved to south London and Ernest attended Dulwich College. He joined the merchant navy and made several voyages around the world. His first visit to Antarctica was with Commander Scott's 1901-1904 expedition. He returned in 1907-1909 leading the Nimrod expedition and when he was under a hundred miles from the South Pole he turned back rather than risk the lives of his men due to lack of food supplies. In 1909 he published The Heart of Antarctica. On another voyage his ship Endurance was crushed by ice in 1915 and finally sank but he saved his men from Elephant Island in the ship The James Caird. Several areas of the continent are named after him, such as Shackleton crater. He was knighted and received the Polar medal and other honours. 

On 9th April 1904 he married Emily Dorman (1868-1936) and had three children, Raymond, Cecily and Edward. Edward (1911-1994) was also an explorer and writer, as well as a Cabinet minister and Leader of the House of Lords. He was created Lord Shackleton and had a memorial service in Westminster Abbey on 25th January 1995.

While on board the Quest at South Georgia Ernest died of a heart attack on 5th January 1922. He was buried on 5th March in the cemetery at Grytviken. A memorial service for him was held at St Paul's Cathedral in London.

A centenary service for him and his men was held in the Abbey on 20th May 2016, with a centenary booklet being produced.

Further reading

"The life of Sir Ernest Shackleton" by H.R. Mill, 1933

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

His statue stands outside the Royal Geographical Society in London.

The wreck of the Endurance was located in 2022.

The Shackleton Memorial Library is in the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.

Shackleton centenary service 2016 (PDF, 5.16MB)


15th February 1874


5th January 1922


15th February 2024


Explorer; sailor; writer


South Cloister

Memorial Type


Material Type

Marble; stone

White marble memorial tablet to Sir Ernest Shackleton with circular globe showing Antarctica
Sir Ernest Shackleton memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Framed flag of Sir Ernest Shackleton at 2016 service
Shackleton flag at 2016 service

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2024 Dean and Chapter of Westminster