Bristow-Bovey’s ‘Finding Endurance’ tells chilling tales very well

01 September 2023 - 10:16
By Margaret von Klemperer
'Finding Endurance: Shackleton, My Father and a World Without End'  by Darrel Bristow-Bovey.
Image: Supplied 'Finding Endurance: Shackleton, My Father and a World Without End' by Darrel Bristow-Bovey.

Finding Endurance: Shackleton, My Father and a World Without End
Darrel Bristow-Bovey
Jonathan Ball Publishers

When Darrel Bristow-Bovey was a small boy, one of his father’s stories was that he had sailed with Sir Ernest Shackleton. He hadn’t, of course, as the explorer died before he was born, but it fired the author’s imagination. And when we are small, we believe our parents.

Much has been written about Shackleton, his expedition to attempt the first crossing of the Antarctic from west to east, the loss of his ship Endurance in the ice and his astonishing feat of bringing his whole crew back to safety through the most appalling conditions.

There are many retellings of how a team based on the SA Agulhas II, captained by Knowledge Bengu, found the wreck of Endurance under the ice in 2022, more than a century after she sank. However, Bristow-Bovey’s book is more than just another version of the stories.

He certainly tells them, and he tells them very well. We learn about the stowaway on board  and how he was treated and cared for by Shackleton. We read how the polar night, six months long, can affect the human mind. The reader can almost feel the cold and the fear and comes to know the personalities involved for, as in any group of people, there are disparate characters.

The author draws the comparisons – not for the first time – between Shackleton and Robert Scott and how their personalities affected the outcomes of their journeys, both technically failures but very different. He also tells stories from his own life and his family, and in particular his father and how his claim to have been with Shackleton may have come about.

Finding Endurance is not only about Shackleton’s expedition or the finding of his ship. The part of the book that deals with the discovery is relatively short and fascinating, but not the climax of the story. The main thrust is human endurance, what it is and who has it, whether they are a celebrated explorer or an ordinary person. There is a moving vignette of the author’s mother, a figure of great endurance.

One of the saddest aspects of Shackleton’s story is how he was never really recognised as the hero he was, at least not in his lifetime. He returned from the Antarctic at a time when death, not survival, was the fashion as the death toll of the World War 1 shook humanity and could only be rationalised as heroic, whatever the truth. And he endured that too.