The story of the whale at South Georgia

The story of the whale at South Georgia

South Georgia Island declared rodent-free after centuries of infestation

The world’s largest rodent eradication project was declared a success in May 2018, read how with your help we made history and created a brighter future for the island’s birds. Thank you to all our supporters. You made this possible!

Unique South Georgia – preserving its history, restoring its environment

The sub-antarctic island of South Georgia is a unique place positioned in the Southern Ocean; it is one of nature’s paradises and yet it is also rich with historical heritage.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) aims to work with all who wish to preserve the island’s natural and historical heritage for future generations – to redress the damage to its environment done in the past, and to preserve the human heritage of the island which so clearly shows the best and worst of humanity.

The groundbreaking successful SGHT Habitat Restoration Project will save native birds from extinction and increase by millions the numbers of endangered seabirds on South Georgia.

Help us to preserve the island’s past and to create a better future for South Georgia’s wildlife.
Please make a donation to SGHT today.

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Grytviken - Download Free 3D model by Mesheritage [95aeaf5] - SketchfabGrytviken was the largest whaling station on South Georgia, part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic. The settlement, which is located at the head of King Edward Cove within the larger Cumberland East Bay, was considered the best ha... ... See MoreSee Less

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Plaque on the manager's house at Stromness commemorating the arrival of Shackleton, Crean and Worsley (Image from Government SGSSI
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Stromness and the Rescue of McNish, McCarthy and Vincent

Arriving at Stromness on 20th May, after their 36 hour trek across South Georgia, Shackleton, Worsley and Crean were, of all things, concerned about their appearance for the most gallant of reasons.

“We tried to straighten ourselves up a bit, for the thought that there might be women at the station made us painfully conscious of our uncivilized appearance. Our beards were long and our hair was matted. We were unwashed and the garments that we had worn for nearly a year without a change were tattered and stained. Three more unpleasant-looking ruffians could hardly have been imagined.” wrote Shackleton in South. As they approached the station, Worsley even attempted temporary repairs to his clothes using safety pins, but it only served to emphasize their ragged appearance.

Their first encounters with whaling station inhabitants were not encouraging. Two small boys gave them one all-encompassing look and ran away as fast as they could; an old man reacted “as if he’d seen the Devil himself” and scurried away and when finally they reached the wharf and asked the man in charge for the station manager, Mr Sorlle, he took them to him stating “There are three funny-looking men outside, who say they have come over the island and they know you. I have left them outside.”

At first, Mr Sorlle did not recognise them, but on learning it was Shackleton at his door, he ushered the trio into his house and showered them with hospitality. He gave them hot coffee and cakes, and showed them to the bathroom.

“We shed our rags and scrubbed ourselves luxuriously....Soon we were clean again. Then we put on delightful new clothes supplied from the station stores and got rid of our superfluous hair. Within an hour or two we had ceased to be savages and had become civilized men again. Then came a splendid meal.”

While they were washing, Mr Sorlle made arrangements for a whaling vessel to be dispatched that night to King Haakon Bay and Peggoty Camp to rescue Vincent, McCarthy and McNish. At 10pm, the ship set sail with Worsley aboard.

Whilst relief was underway for Peggoty Camp, Shackleton discussed plans to rescue the men on Elephant Island. From Mr Sorlle, he also learned of problems with the Ross Sea Party. Details were scanty, but he knew the Aurora had broken its moorings after a storm and returned to New Zealand having drifted in the ice for some time, but there was no news of the shore party itself. As far as Shackleton knew, there might now be two parties in need of rescue and it became even more urgent to get to Elephant Island as quickly as possible so that he was free to relieve the Ross Sea party next.

That night, Crean and Shackleton remained at Stromness in the manager’s villa: “Our first night at the whaling-station was blissful. Crean and I shared a beautiful room in Mr. Sorlle’s house, with electric light and two beds, warm and soft. We were so comfortable that we were unable to sleep. Late at night a steward brought us tea, bread and butter and cakes, and we lay in bed, revelling in the luxury of it all. Outside a dense snow-storm, which started two hours after our arrival and lasted until the following day, was swirling and driving about the mountain-slopes. We were thankful indeed that we had made a place of safety, for it would have gone hard with us if we had been out on the mountains that night.”

The next day, the rescue ship arrived in King Haakon Bay. Vincent, McCarthy and McNish were ecstatic to know that the others had made it across South Georgia, but disappointed that none of them had come with the ship to rescue them ““We thought the Boss or one of the others would come round,”” they explained to Worsley. Despite having spent a year and a half in his company, such was the change in his appearance in two days, that they did not recognise the clean, shaven and tidy man standing before them and had assumed him to be one of the whalers.

Within a few minutes, they, their gear and the James Caird were stowed aboard the whaling ship. Returning via Grytviken where they informed the magistrate of the fate of the Endurance, the ship entered Stromness Bay at dusk on Monday afternoon. All the whalers gathered on the beach to receive the party and to examine the James Caird. They could not believe that this small boat had carried the men 800miles across such turbulent seas to South Georgia and all of them wanted the honour of hauling her ashore.

With warm quarters and good meals on the ship, the Peggoty Camp trio were already starting to improve. Even so, when Shackleton saw McNish after a bath, he realised just how much events had taken their toll on the man “The carpenter looked woefully thin ...I did not realize how he had wasted till I saw him washed and changed...The rescue came just in time for him.”

Quotes from Shackleton’s South

Image: The Manager’s Villa at Stromness at which Shackleton arrived. Copyright: Pat Lurcock and reproduced with kind permission
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