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Ernest Shackleton

(1874 - 1922)

While many recall the heroic exploits associated with Ernest Shackleton, few realize that he was one of the most unusual travel publishers in history. Born in Ireland in 1874, Shackleton joined the Royal Navy at an early age and later volunteered to become a member of Captain Scott’s voyage to Antarctica. In 1907 Shackleton chose to lead his own expedition back to the frozen continent. But before he and his crew embarked on the Nimrod, Shackleton packed a small printing press, as well as the other materials needed to compose and produce one of the world’s most unique travel books. Because of his previous experience, Shackleton knew that the morale of his team of explorers would be severely tested during the long, dark winter months in which the team would be forced to survive in a single wooden hut. It was in order to keep boredom at bay that Shackleton urged his men to write, illustrate and produce a book recalling their adventures. The result of this team effort was entitled Aurora Australis.

Shackleton’s career as an explorer included his famous second journey aboard the Endurance, the ship which was trapped and crushed in the frozen sea ice in 1914. Though Ernest Shackleton was later knighted for having led his men to back to safety against impossible odds, the publication of this matchless book is an important landmark in exploration history.

The royalties on this book will be donated to the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust which promotes the restoration, preservation and protection of the structures, artefacts and records which reflect the history of human endeavour in Antarctica. 

For more information about Shackleton, please visit The James Caird Society.

Summer 2008:  Nick Smith reviews Aurora Australis for the Newsletter of The James Caird Society.
Autumn 2008:  Nick Smith writes "The Perils of Polar Printing" for Bookdealer magazine.

Aurora Australis


ISBN 1590482425









In an age when it is fashionable to forget the achievements of great explorers comes the timely rebirth of this legendary book, penned by a band of brave British geographers whose wit and wisdom blaze like a sun beside today’s lesser stars.

At the dawning of the 20th century no human had reached the mysterious South Pole. Prior to setting off to Antarctica with Captain Robert Scott in 1901, Ernest Shackleton placed an advertisement in an English paper describing who was needed for such a perilous endeavour. “Men wanted for hazardous journey.  Small wages. Bitter cold.  Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger.  Safe return doubtful.  Honour and recognition in case of success."  That expedition ended in failure and a few years later Scott died a tragic death on the frozen continent. Despite these setbacks, in 1907 Shackleton determined to lead a new scientific team back to Antarctica. He established a base camp at Cape Royds on Ross Island and built a wooden hut to serve as headquarters. Because of his prior experience Shackleton knew the dark winter months spent in these cramped quarters would test the morale of his men, so he set them to work creating the first book ever produced on the Antarctic continent.

Consisting of fact, fiction, humour, prose and poetry, Aurora Australis is one of the most celebrated travel books ever written. It contains stories about the Antarctic wildlife, describes the harsh conditions suffered by the explorers and recounts their journey to the top of Mount Erebus, an active volcano surrounded by ice. With outside temperatures hovering at minus fifty degrees, the men used candles to keep the ink from freezing on the simple printing press brought from England. When completed, the text was bound in wooden covers taken from packing crates, then the spine of the book was sewn together with seal skin. An estimated one hundred copies were originally “Printed at the Sign of the Penguins,” by these gifted authors, the result of which is one of the most unique books ever created during the heroic age of exploration.

Because of its rarity a first edition of “Aurora Australis” recently sold for more than $100,000. This special edition is being produced in an effort to raise awareness of the need to preserve Shackleton’s original hut, along with all of the remarkable memorabilia and icebound supplies preserved within its frozen walls. Having endured nearly a century of harsh weather, and official government neglect, Shackleton’s scientific headquarters still symbolizes the nobler aspects of human nature which took these talented and brave men to Antarctica. The tiny building is now listed as one of the most endangered sites in the world.

Though time passes, within these pages rests the message of this brotherhood of bold men, these thinking men of action, who created a lasting literary legacy whose message of courage rings true for all time.

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