Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, better known simply as Ernest Shackleton, was a leading figure in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, a period of Antarctic history characterized by repeated expeditions which attempted to penetrate the mysteries of the ice-bound continent. While Shackleton didn't achieve the fame of some of his fellow adventurers at the time, he later came to be a heralded figure in the history of Antarctica, and he is the subject of numerous books and films which celebrate his leadership and bravery.
Shackleton was born in 1874 in Ireland. Despite his father's wishes that he become a doctor, Ernest Shackleton chose to join the Merchant Marine instead, ultimately volunteering for the Discovery expedition in 1902 with Robert Scott. Shackleton was bitten by the bug of Antarctic exploration on the Discovery, returning in 1907 with the Nimrod and ultimately getting very close to the South Pole. For his achievements while leading this expedition, Ernest Shackleton was knighted, but he did not intend to rest on his laurels.
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton set out again, this time on the Endurance, as part of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which was going to attempt to cross Antarctica. Unfortunately, the Endurance became trapped in sea ice before breaking up, forcing the men to abandon ship and trek their way on foot and later in lifeboats until they reached remote Elephant Island before traveling to South Georgia Island, where they were ultimately rescued.
In an era littered with accounts of serious injuries and death on Antarctic expeditions, the fate of Shackleton's men is remarkable: not a single man died, although the sled dogs and ship's cat were shot by the crew when they were stuck on drifting sea ice without apparent hope of rescue. Astoundingly, the men also managed to carry 150 photographic plates documenting the fate of the Endurance, many of which can be seen on display today. Many people credit the survival of the men in the Shackleton expedition to Shackleton himself, as he demonstrated formidable leadership skills and heroism in his attempt to save the crew.
Despite the events of the Endurance expedition, Ernest Shackleton set out on expedition again in 1922, aboard the Quest, with the goal of sailing all the way around Antarctica. Before the expedition could even begin, however, Shackleton felt ill, and died of a heart attack off the coast of Georgia Island, where he was buried at the request of his wife.