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What Was the Nimrod Expedition?

Michael Anissimov
Updated: May 21, 2024

The Nimrod Expedition, more formally known as the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-09, was the first of three expeditions to the Antarctic led by the explorer Ernest Shackleton, who would become one of the most famous Antarctic explorers. Despite its name, the expedition was not sponsored by the state or any large institutions, but by wealthy individuals, who benefited by having natural features named after them.

The Nimrod Expedition, named after its ship, the 300-ton Nimrod, departed Great Britain on 7 August 1907. The expedition was characterized by the use of fancy flourishes, such as motor traction and Manchurian ponies, which hindered more than helped it. The expedition also brought sledge dogs, which in 1911 were used by Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole, but these were only employed by Shackleton at base camp.

After journeying overseas from Britain to New Zealand, the Nimrod was towed by a government ship to the Antarctic circle, a distance of 1,650 miles (2,750 km). Upon the first sight of pack ice, the ship was cut free to travel under its own power. After several attempts to land in King Edward VII Land, the Nimrod Expedition had to change course to McMurdo Sound, which Shackleton had previously promised to leave entirely to the more popular Antarctic explorer Robin Falcon Scott.

After a difficult landing and unloading, the Nimrod Expedition made camp at Cape Royds. To give his expedition an immediate purpose, Shackleton ordered an attempt to summit Mount Erebus, a 12,450 ft (3,790 m) tall mountain on Ross Island that had never yet been summitted. After a week of hiking up and down the mountain, the team completed a successful summitting, and returned to Cape Royds "nearly dead."

The greatest part of the journey was yet to begin. On 28 October 1908, a four-person party, including Shackleton, began a southward march — a South Pole attempt. From the beginning, the party was encumbered by the ponies it brought along, with a pony needing to be shot every few days due to lameness resulting from walking on the broken ice surfaces.

After about a week of travel, the Nimrod Expedition began to venture into unknown territory, ascending the foothills of the Antarctic Mountains and passing through them via the newly-discovered Beardmore Glacier. During its ascent, they lost a pony — and nearly an expedition member — down a deep crevasse.

After nearly a month of continued travel past the mountains, the expedition reached as far as it could go — about 100 miles (160.93 km) from the South Pole, or 88 degrees south. After 73 days total travel, the party made it back to Cape Royds just in time to catch their ship before it had to leave to avoid being frozen in pack ice. Meanwhile, another, separate party from the same expedition had reached the South Magnetic Pole and surveyed the McMurdo Dry Valleys region. Successful in numerous ways but without reaching the grand prize of the South Pole, the Nimrod Expedition concluded on 14 June 1909, when the party made it back to England.

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Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By anon101825 — On Aug 05, 2010

growing up i often heard the expression "you nimrod", and only knew it meant you were stupid. now i understand where it came from - my grandparents were all born 1896-1904. very interesting, thanks. maybe I'll have to look up more of their expressions!

By anon42226 — On Aug 20, 2009

this was very helpful. thanks.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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