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Aeneas Mackintosh

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Aeneas Mackintosh

Aeneas Mackintosh
A man, fresh-faced with dark, brushed-back hair, seated among a group. He is wearing a naval officer's uniform with a high, stiff collar
Born Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh
(1879-07-01)1 July 1879
Tirhut, Bengal Presidency, British Raj
(in modern Bihar, India)
Died 8 May 1916(1916-05-08) (aged 36)
McMurdo Sound, Antarctica
Education Bedford Modern School
Occupation British Merchant Navy officer and Antarctic explorer
Spouse(s) Gladys, nee Campbell
Children 2 daughters
Parents Alexander and Annie Mackintosh

Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh (1 July 1879 – 8 May 1916) was a British Merchant Navy officer and Antarctic explorer, who commanded the Ross Sea party as part of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17. The Ross Sea party's mission was to support Shackleton's proposed transcontinental march by laying supply depots along the latter stages of the march's intended route. In the face of persistent setbacks and practical difficulties, Mackintosh's party fulfilled its task, although he and two others died in the course of their duties.

Mackintosh's first Antarctic experience was as second officer on Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition, 1907–09. Shortly after his arrival in the Antarctic, a shipboard accident destroyed his right eye, and he was sent back to New Zealand. He returned in 1909 to participate in the later stages of the expedition; his will and determination in adversity impressed Shackleton, and led to his Ross Sea party appointment in 1914.

Having brought his party to the Antarctic, Mackintosh was faced with numerous difficulties. Confused and vague orders meant he was uncertain of the timing of Shackleton's proposed march. His problems were compounded when the party's ship, SY Aurora, was swept from its winter moorings during a gale and was unable to return. Despite this loss of equipment, supplies and personnel, Mackintosh and his stranded shore party managed to carry out its depot-laying task to the full. Mackintosh himself barely survived the ordeal, owing his life to the actions of his comrades. Having been brought to safety, he and a companion attempted to return to the expedition's base camp by crossing the unstable sea ice. They disappeared, and are assumed to have fallen through to their deaths.

Mackintosh's competence and leadership skills have been questioned by polar historians. Shackleton himself commended the work of Mackintosh and his comrades, and equated the sacrifice of their lives to those given in the trenches of the First World War. At the same time he was critical of Mackintosh's organising skills. Years later, Shackleton's son, Lord Shackleton, identified Mackintosh as one of the expedition's heroes, alongside Ernest Joyce and Dick Richards.

Early life

Mackintosh was born in Tirhut, India, on 1 July 1879, one of six children (five sons and a daughter) of a Scottish indigo planter, Alexander Mackintosh, a descendant from the chieftains of Clan Chattan. Aeneas would in due course be named as an heir to the chieftainship, and to the ancient seat at Inverness that went with it.[1] When Aeneas was still a young child, his mother, Annie Mackintosh, suddenly returned to Britain, bringing the children with her. The reasons for the family rift are unknown, but it was evidently permanent.[1] At home in Bedfordshire, Aeneas attended Bedford Modern School. He then followed the same path as had Ernest Shackleton five years earlier, leaving school at the age of 16 to go to sea. After serving a tough Merchant Officer's apprenticeship, he joined the P and O Line, and remained with this company until he was recruited by Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition, which sailed for Antarctica in 1907.[1] Before the expedition's departure Mackintosh was commissioned Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.[2]

Nimrod Expedition

 Man with hair centre-parted, wearing high white collar with tie, and a dark jacket. His facial expression is serious
Ernest Shackleton, leader of the Nimrod Expedition

The Nimrod Expedition, 1907–1909, was the first of three Antarctic expeditions led by Ernest Shackleton. Its objective, as stated by Shackleton, was to "proceed to the Ross Quadrant of the Antarctic with a view to reaching the Geographical South Pole and the South Magnetic Pole".[3] Mackintosh was recommended to Shackleton as a suitable officer by the P & O Line,[4] and soon earned Shackleton's confidence while impressing his fellow-officers with his will and determination.[5] While the expedition was in New Zealand, Shackleton added Mackintosh to the shore party, as a likely candidate for the polar march.[6]


On 31 January 1908, not long after Nimrod's arrival at McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic, Mackintosh was assisting in the transfer of sledging gear aboard ship when a hook swung across the deck and struck his right eye, virtually destroying it. He was immediately taken to the captain's cabin where, later that day, expedition doctor Eric Marshall operated to remove the eye, using partly improvised surgical equipment.[7] Marshall was deeply impressed by Mackintosh's fortitude, observing that "no man could have taken it better."[5] The accident cost Mackintosh his place on the shore party, and required his return to New Zealand for further treatment. He took no part in the main events of the expedition, but returned south with Nimrod in January 1909, to participate in the closing stages. Shackleton, who had earlier fallen out with the ship's master, Rupert England, had wanted Mackintosh to captain Nimrod on this voyage, but the eye injury had not healed sufficiently to make this appointment possible.[8]

Lost on the ice

On 1 January 1909, Nimrod was stopped by the ice, still 25 miles (40 km) from the expedition's shore base at Cape Royds. Mackintosh decided that he would cross this stretch of ice on foot. Historian Beau Riffenburgh describes the journey that followed as "one of the most ill-considered parts of the entire expedition".[9]

Mackintosh's party, which left the ship on the morning of 3 January, consisted of Mackintosh and three sailors, with a sledge containing supplies and a large mailbag. Two sailors quickly returned to the ship, while Mackintosh and one companion went forward. They camped on the ice that evening, only to find next day that the whole area around them had broken up.[9] After a desperate dash over the moving floes, they managed to reach a small glacier tongue. They camped there, and waited for several days for their snow-blindness to subside. When their vision returned, they found that Cape Royds was in sight but inaccessible, as the sea-ice leading to it had gone, leaving a stretch of open water. They had little choice but to make for the hut by land, a dangerous undertaking without appropriate equipment and experience.[9]

On 11 January they set out. For the next 48 hours they struggled over hostile terrain, through regions of deep crevasses and treacherous snowfields. They soon parted company with all their equipment and supplies.[9] At one point, to proceed, they had to ascend to 3,000 feet (910 m) and then slide to the foot of a snow-slope. Eventually, after stumbling around in the fog for hours, they fortunately encountered Bernard Day, a member of the shore party, a short distance from the hut.[9] The ship later recovered the abandoned equipment. John King Davis, then serving as Nimrod's chief officer, remarked that "Mackintosh was always the man to take the hundredth chance. This time he got away with it."[10]

Mackintosh later joined Ernest Joyce and others on a journey across the Great Ice Barrier to Minna Bluff, to lay a depot for Shackleton's polar party, whose return from their southern march was awaited.[9] On 3 March, while keeping watch on the deck of Nimrod, Mackintosh observed a flare, which signalled the safe return of Shackleton and his party. They had fallen just short of their South Pole objective, having reached a Farthest South of 88° 23' S.[11][12]

Between expeditions

 island outline with some marked features including the locations of two shipwrecks in an area identified as Wafer Bay
Map of Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean, where Mackintosh searched for treasure in 1911

Mackintosh returned to England in June 1909. On reporting to the P & O, he was informed that due to his impaired sight he was discharged.[1] Without immediate prospects of employment, he agreed, early in 1910, to accompany Douglas Mawson (who had served as a geologist on the Nimrod Expedition and was later to lead the Australasian Antarctic Expedition) on a trip to Hungary, to survey a potential goldfield which Shackleton was hoping would form the basis of a lucrative business venture.[13] Despite a promising report from Mawson, nothing came of this. Mackintosh later launched his own treasure-hunting expedition to Cocos Island off the Panama Pacific coast, but again returned home empty-handed.[1]

In February 1912, Mackintosh married Gladys Campbell, and settled into an office job as assistant secretary to the Imperial Merchant Service Guild in Liverpool. The safe, routine work did not satisfy him: "I am still existing at this job, stuck in a dirty office," he wrote to a former Nimrod shipmate. "I always feel I never completed my first initiation—so would like to have one final wallow, for good or bad!"[1]

Ross Sea party

 A group of 19 men arranged in three rows, many of them in naval uniforms
Members of the Ross sea party, photographed in Australia. Mackintosh is seated in the middle row, third from left. Ernest Joyce is standing, extreme left, back row. Arnold Spencer-Smith is the tall figure, centre back row.

Early difficulties

Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition contained two separate components. From the main party based in the Weddell Sea, a group of six led by Shackleton was to march across the continent, via the South Pole. A supporting Ross Sea party, based on the opposite side of the continent in McMurdo Sound, would lay supply depots across the Great Ice Barrier, to assist the transcontinental party on the final stage of its journey. Mackintosh was originally to be a member of Shackleton's transcontinental party,[14] but difficulties arose over the appointment of a commander for the Ross Sea party. Eric Marshall, the surgeon from the Nimrod expedition, turned the assignment down, as did John King Davis;[15][16] Shackleton's efforts to obtain from the Admiralty a naval crew for this part of the enterprise were rejected.[17] The post of Ross Sea party leader was finally offered to, and accepted by, Mackintosh.[15] His ship would be the Aurora, lately used by Mawson's Australasian Antarctic Expedition and presently lying in Australia. Shackleton considered the Ross Sea party's assignment routine, and saw no special difficulties in its execution.[18]

Mackintosh arrived in Australia in October 1914 to take up his duties, and was immediately faced with major difficulties. Without warning or notification, Shackleton had cut the Ross Sea party's allocated funds in half, from £2,000 to £1,000. Mackintosh was instructed to make up the difference by soliciting free gifts,[19] and to mortgage the expedition's ship to raise further money. It then emerged that the purchase of Aurora had not been legallly completed, which delayed Mackintosh's attempts to mortgage it.[19] Also, Aurora was unfit for Antarctic work without an extensive overhaul, which required co-operation from an exasperated Australian Government.[19] The task of dealing with these difficulties within a very restricted timescale caused Mackintosh great anxiety, and the various muddles created a negative image of the expedition in the eyes of the Australian public.[20] Some members of the party resigned, others were dismissed; recruiting a full complement of crew and scientific staff involved some last-minute appointments which left the party noticeably short of Antarctic experience.[21]

Shackleton had given Mackintosh the impression that he would if possible attempt his crossing during the coming 1914–15 Antarctic season. Before departing for the Weddell Sea, he changed his mind about the feasibility of this timescale. Mackintosh was not informed of this change of plan; this misunderstanding led to the underprepared and near-chaotic depot-laying journeys of January–March 1915.[22]

Depot-laying, first season

Aurora finally left Hobart, Tasmania, on 24 December 1914. On 16 January 1915 the party landed at McMurdo Sound, where Mackintosh established a base camp at Captain Scott's old headquarters at Cape Evans.[23] He believed that Shackleton might have already begun his march from the Weddell Sea, and was determined that depot-laying should begin at once. Joyce, the expedition's most seasoned Antarctic traveller—he had been with Scott's Discovery Expedition in 1901–04, and with the Nimrod Expedition—protested that the party needed time for acclimatisation and training, but was over-ruled.[24] Joyce was shocked by the rebuff; he had expected that Mackintosh would defer to him on sledging matters: "If I had Shacks here I would make him see my way of arguing", he wrote in his diary.[25] The depot-laying journey which followed began with a series of mishaps. A blizzard delayed their start,[26] a motor sledge broke down after a few miles,[27] and Mackintosh and his group lost their way on the sea ice between Cape Evans and Hut Point.[26] Conditions on the Barrier were harsh for the untrained and inexperienced men. Many of the stores taken on to the Barrier were dumped on the ice to reduce loads and did not reach the depots.[28] After Mackintosh insisted, over Joyce's urgent protests, on taking the dogs all the way to 80°S, all died on the return journey.[29] The men, frostbitten and exhausted, reached the old Discovery expedition hut at Hut Point on 24 March, but were cut off from the ship and from their Cape Evans base by unsafe sea ice, and had to wait there, idle, for nearly three months.[30] After this experience, confidence in Mackintosh's leadership was low, and bickering rife.[31]

Loss of Aurora

 Three-masted ship with funnel to rear, anchored by the bow to an ice shelf
SY Aurora, anchored to the Antarctic ice

When Mackintosh and the depot-laying party finally reached Cape Evans in mid-June, they learned that Aurora, with 18 men on board and carrying most of the shore party's supplies and equipment, had broken loose from its winter mooring during a gale. Ice conditions in McMurdo Sound made it impossible for the ship to return; the shore party of ten was effectively marooned, with drastically depleted resources.[32][33] However, most of the stores required for the depots had been landed. Mackintosh therefore resolved that the following season's work would be carried out to the full: depots would be laid across the Great ice Barrier all the way to the Beardmore Glacier. The party would seek to make up its lack of supplies and equipment by salvaging the stores left by earlier expeditions, particularly from Captain Scott's recent sojourn at Cape Evans. The entire party pledged its support to this effort, though it would require, wrote Mackintosh, a record-breaking feat of polar travel to accomplish it.[34] However, the long months of preparation were difficult for Mackintosh. The only officer in the party, he found it hard to form close relationships with his companions. His position became increasingly isolated, and subject to the frequent vocal criticisms of Joyce in particular.[35]

March to Mount Hope

On 1 September 1915, nine men in teams of three began the task of hauling approximately 5,000 pounds (2,300 kg) of stores from the Cape Evans base on to the Barrier. This was the first stage in the process of laying down depots at one-degree latitude (60 nautical miles/110 km/69 statute miles) intervals down to Mount Hope, at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. A large forward base was then established at the Bluff depot, just north of 79°, from which the final journeys to Mount Hope would be launched early in 1916. During these early stages, Mackintosh clashed repeatedly with Joyce over methods. In a showdown on 28 November, confronted with incontrovertible evidence of the greater effectiveness of Joyce's methods over his own, Mackintosh was forced to back down and accept a revised plan drafted by Joyce and Richards. Joyce's private comment was "I never in my experience came across such an idiot in charge of men."[36]

 A loaded sledge being pulled across an icy surface by two figures and a team of dogs
Spencer-Smith and Mackintosh being hauled on the sledge

The main march southward from the Bluff depot began on 1 January 1916. Within a few days, one team of three was forced to return to base, following the failure of their Primus stove. The other six carried on: Mackintosh, Joyce, Ernest Wild, Dick Richards, Arnold Spencer-Smith and Victor Hayward. The 80° depot laid the previous season was reinforced, and new depots were built at 81° and 82°. As the party moved on towards the vicinity of Mount Hope, both Mackintosh and Spencer-Smith, the expedition's photographer, were hobbling. Shortly after the 83° mark was passed, Spencer-Smith collapsed and was left in a tent while the others struggled on the remaining few miles. Mackintosh rejected the suggestion that he should remain with the invalid, insisting that it was his duty to ensure that every depot was laid.[37] On 26 January, Mount Hope was attained and the final depot put in place.[38]

On the homeward march, Spencer-Smith had to be drawn on the sledge. Mackintosh's condition was deteriorating rapidly; unable to pull, he staggered alongside, crippled by the growing effects of scurvy.[39] As his condition worsened, Mackintosh was forced from time to time to join Spencer-Smith as a passenger on the sledge. Even the fitter members of the group were handicapped by frostbite, snow-blindness and, increasingly, scurvy, as the journey became a desperate struggle for survival. On 8 March, Mackintosh volunteered to remain in the tent while the others tried to get Spencer-Smith to the relative safety of Hut Point. Spencer-Smith died the next day.[38] Richards, Wild and Joyce struggled on to Hut Point with the now stricken Hayward, before returning to rescue Mackintosh. By 18 March, all five survivors were recuperating at Hut Point, having completed what Shackleton's biographers Marjory and James Fisher as "one of the most remarkable, and apparently impossible, feats of endurance in the history of polar travel."[38]

Disappearance and death

 aerial view of a frozen bay, with a long peninsula of ice protruding from a snow-covered shoreline
McMurdo Sound, frozen over. Mackintosh and Hayward set out on 8 May 1916 from Hut Point (A), intending to walk to Cape Evans (B). They disappeared in the area marked C.

With the help of fresh seal meat which halted the ravages of scurvy, the survivors slowly recovered at Hut Point. The unstable condition of the sea ice in McMurdo Sound prevented them from completing the journey to the Cape Evans base.[40] Conditions at Hut Point were gloomy and depressing, with an unrelieved diet and no normal comforts;[40] Mackintosh in particular found the squalor of the hut intolerable, and dreaded the possibility that, caught at Hut Point, they might miss the return of the ship.[41] On 8 May 1916, after carrying out reconnaissance on the state of the sea ice, Mackintosh announced that he and Hayward were prepared to risk the walk to Cape Evans.[42] Against the urgent advice of their comrades, they set off, carrying only light supplies.[43]

Shortly after they had moved out of sight of Hut Point, a severe blizzard developed which lasted for two days. When it had subsided, Joyce and Richards followed the still visible footmarks on the ice up to a large crack, where the tracks stopped.[43] Neither Mackintosh nor Hayward arrived at Cape Evans and no trace of either was ever found, despite extensive searches carried out by Joyce after he, Richards and Wild finally managed to reach Cape Evans in June.[44]

After Aurora finally returned to Cape Evans in January 1917, there were further searches, equally fruitless.[45] All the indications were that either Mackintosh and Hayward had fallen through the ice, or that the ice on which they had been walking had been blown out to sea during the blizzard.[43]


Mackintosh's own expedition diaries, which cover the period up to 30 September 1915, have not been published; they are held by the Scott Polar Research Institute.[46] The two main accounts available to general readers are Joyce's diaries, published in 1929 as The South Polar Trail, and the account of Dick Richards: The Ross Sea Shore Party 1914–17. Mackintosh's reputation is not well-served by either, particularly Joyce's partisan record which is described by one commentator as a "self-aggrandizing epic".[47] Joyce is generally scathing about Mackintosh's leadership; Richards's account is much shorter and more straightforward, although decades later, when he was the only member of the expedition still alive (he died in 1985, aged 91), he spoke out, claiming that Mackintosh on the depot-laying march was "tremendously pathetic", had "lost his nerve completely", and that the fatal ice walk was "suicide".[48]

The circumstances of Mackintosh's death have led commentators to emphasise his impetuousness and incompetence.[49] This generally negative view of him was not, however, unanimous among his comrades. Alexander Stevens, who was the Ross Sea party's chief scientist, found Mackintosh "steadfast and reliable", and believed that the Ross Sea party would have achieved much less, but for Mackintosh's unwearying drive.[47] John King Davis, too, admired Mackintosh's dedication and called the depot-laying journey a "magnificent achievement".[47] Shackleton was equivocal. In South he acknowledges that Mackintosh and his men achieved their object, praises the party's qualities of endurance and self-sacrifice, and asserts that Mackintosh died for his country.[50] On the other hand, in a letter home, he is highly critical: "Mackintosh seemed to have no idea of discipline or organisation ...".[51] Shackleton did, however, donate part of the proceeds from a short New Zealand lecture tour to assist the Mackintosh family.[52] His son, Lord Shackleton, in a much later assessment of the expedition, wrote: "Three men in particular emerge as heroes: Captain Aeneas Mackintosh, ... Dick Richards, and Ernest Joyce."[53]

Mackintosh had two daughters, the second born while he was in Australia awaiting the Aurora's departure.[1] On the return Barrier journey in February 1916, expecting to die, he wrote a poignant farewell message, with echoes of Captain Scott. The message concludes: "If it is God's will that we should have given up our lives then we do so in the British manner as our tradition holds us in honour bound to do. Goodbye, friends. I feel sure that my dear wife and children will not be neglected."[54] In 1923, Gladys Mackintosh married Joseph Stenhouse, Aurora's first officer and later captain.[55]

Mackintosh, who had received a silver Polar Medal for his work during the Nimrod Expedition, is commemorated by Mt. Mackintosh at .[2]

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Tyler-Lewis, pp. 35–36
  2. ^ a b "Meet the Crew of Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition". Antarctic Heritage Trust. Retrieved 5 September 2009. 
  3. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 103
  4. ^ Huntford, p. 196
  5. ^ a b Tyler-Lewis, p. 22
  6. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 141
  7. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 159
  8. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 170
  9. ^ a b c d e f Riffenburgh, pp. 266–68
  10. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 108
  11. ^ Shackleton, Heart of the Antarctic, p. 339
  12. ^ Riffenburgh, p. 231
  13. ^ Huntford, pp. 323–27
  14. ^ Fisher, p. 300
  15. ^ a b Tyler-Lewis, p. 27
  16. ^ Fisher, p. 302
  17. ^ Huntford, pp. 371–73
  18. ^ Shackleton, p. 242
  19. ^ a b c Fisher, pp. 397–400
  20. ^ Fisher, p. 399
  21. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 48–53
  22. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 214–15
  23. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 64
  24. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 67–68
  25. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 68
  26. ^ a b Tyler-Lewis, pp. 71–72
  27. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 84
  28. ^ Tyler-Lewis. pp. 104–05
  29. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 97
  30. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 99–100
  31. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 105–06
  32. ^ Bickel, pp. 72–74
  33. ^ Aurora drifted in the ice for nine months, moving northward into the Ross Sea and eventually reaching the Southern Ocean. She broke free in February 1916 and reached New Zealand a month later. Shackleton (South), pp. 307–33
  34. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 135–37
  35. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 138–44
  36. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 145–62
  37. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 163–71
  38. ^ a b c Fisher, p. 408
  39. ^ Tyler-Lewis, pp. 184–85
  40. ^ a b Bickel, pp. 205–07
  41. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 195
  42. ^ Bickel, p. 209
  43. ^ a b c Bickel, pp. 212–13
  44. ^ Shackleton, pp. 302–03: Joyce's report
  45. ^ Shackleton, pp. 335–36
  46. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 346
  47. ^ a b c Tyler-Lewis, p. 25–60
  48. ^ Arrow, Michelle. "Ross Sea Party". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 13 April 2008. 
  49. ^ Huntford, pp. 413–14, pp. 450–51
  50. ^ Shackleton, pp. 241–42 and p. 340
  51. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 252
  52. ^ Fisher, p. 423
  53. ^ Bickel, p. viii
  54. ^ Bickel, pp. 169–71
  55. ^ Tyler-Lewis, p. 271


External links

  • Aeneas Mackintosh at Scott Polar Research Institute includes letter and sledging plan prepared by Mackintosh
  • – Ships of the Polar Explorers" at coolantarctica.comAurora"SY
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