Early life

In 1884, Dr Shackleton crossed the water and settled in England. It was in suburban London that Ernest Shackleton spent the remainder of his boyhood years. Ernest’s mother became mysteriously an invalid and remained so for the last 40 years of her life. Dr Shackleton, with help from his mother-in-law and various female relatives from Ireland, raised Ernest and the other children.

Until the age of 11 Shackleton was educated at home by a governess. He then went to Fir Lodge Preparatory School, down the road from his home, Aberdeen House, in West Hill. In 1887 Ernest left Fir Lodge to go to Dulwich College. Henry desired for his son to enter the medical field but Ernest would have no part of it. Longing for the sea, he left Dulwich at the end of the Lent term in 1890 and on April 19, at the age of 16, went to Liverpool and joined the full rigger Hoghton Tower, owned by the North Western Shipping Company of Liverpool. Ernest’s first experience at sea belongs to sailor’s folklore.

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The Hoghton Tower was bound for Valparaiso round Cape Horn. They reached Cape Horn in the middle of winter and fought against storms for nearly two months before finally rounding the Cape. Battered by the seas, the Hoghton Tower reached Valparaiso in the middle of August. From there she sailed for Iquique, Chile where for six weeks she loaded nitrates. The Hoghton Tower returned to Liverpool at the end of April, 1891, with food and water running out. It was a hard, difficult trip, especially for a 16-year-old old novice. Shackleton went on to spend five years sailing to and from the Far East and America. In 1896, without much difficulty, Shackleton passed for First Mate. In April 1898, he was certified as Master. At the age of 24 he had qualified to command a British ship anywhere on the seven seas.


In the summer of 1897, Shackleton met and became attracted Emily Dorman, a friend of his sisters. Ernest had just returned from a voyage to Japan aboard the Flintshire when he met the tall, dark-haired young woman ‘with a good figure’. At the end of 1898, the Flintshire ran aground near Middlesbrough which gave him the opportunity to take leave for 24 hours in order to go home for his father’s birthday on 1 January. On the way, he stopped and visited The Firs, where Emily lived, and for the first time Ernest was seriously in love. Shackleton had enough of tramping to the East. To improve his standing with Emily and her father, he left the Welsh Shire Line and, early in 1899, took a position with the Union Castle Line.

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