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Loyal friend to the end

Loyal friend to the end

Monday, 29 September 2014

Sir Ernest Shackleton took 69 dogs on the Endurance Expedition of 1914-1917 to Antarctica, each one described as ‘a mixture of wolf and almost any kind of big dog.’ On their return, some of the surviving dogs lived the rest of their days at Wellington Zoo. See Oscar’s harness and memories of the courage and sacrifice of these unsung heroes in our exhibition Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton.

The dog harness which belonged to Oscar the dog.

The dog harness which belonged to Oscar the dog.

© Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

While Shackleton and his men were stranded in the Weddell Sea on their ill-fated continent crossing, on the opposite coast – and unaware of Shackleton’s situation – the Ross Sea Party spent two Antarctic seasons laying supply depots with a team of sledge dogs: an ultimately futile task. They too experienced stranding and misfortune, with men and dogs perishing from the cold and lack of supplies.

The remains of one of Shackleton’s dogs from the Ross Sea Party, still tethered by its leather collar and metal chain, to the south of Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans.

The remains of one of Shackleton’s dogs from the Ross Sea Party, still tethered by its leather collar and metal chain, to the south of Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans.

© Jane Ussher

After more than three years on the ice, the Ross Sea Party was finally rescued. In January 1917, seven men, some adult dogs and puppies arrived in Wellington on the Aurora. In his expedition diary of 1916, Ernest Joyce wrote a tribute to these amazing animals:

"Without the aid of four faithful friends, Oscar, Con, Gunner, and Towser, the party could never have arrived back. These dogs from November 5 accompanied the sledging parties, and, although the pace was often very slow, they adapted themselves well to it. Their endurance was fine. For three whole days at one time they had not a scrap of food, and this after a period on short rations. Though they were feeble towards the end of the trip, their condition usually was good, and those who returned with them will ever remember the remarkable service they rendered.”

Still Life exhibition

This article was a companion to the Still Life: Inside the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton exhibition.

  • Post by: Andrea Stevens

    Andrea is a freelance features writer, author and editor. Her special interests are culture and heritage, architecture and design. She was co-author for the book Beyond the State: State Houses from Modest to Modern (Penguin, 2014).

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