Shackleton’s ‘Endurance’ Expedition, October 25, 1915: “. . . we heard a funeral dirge. . .”

–from Frank Worsley’s account published as “Endurance”—

“Soon after the ‘Endurance had taken to the water again she was subjected to such terrific pressure from thousands, indeed millions of tons of ice that despite her wonderful resistance she began to leak badly. I was forced to admit that my ship’s defences were being battered in. Inevitably the time came when we all had to pump continuously over a period of seventy-two hours without sleep, with the main engine running also, in an effort to get her dry. Nevertheless, the water gained on us. We then built a wall across her hold, known to seamen as a ‘coffer-dam,’ which was designed to confine the water to the stern. . . .

“As some of us stood gazing at the heavily grinding ice, we heard a funeral dirge, measured and deliberate in its dolefulness, apparently coming from nowhere in particular. For a moment we looked at each other, and although none of us was particularly given to belief in the supernatural, I’ll swear that we each had the idea that this eerie lament came from some wandering ghost. . .

“I have remarked on the fact that for months previously we had not seen the Emperor penguins. But now there were eight of these birds intently regarding the ship, and although as a rule they utter only a peculiar sound that is something like a low whistle, they began, as I approached, to make the funeral chant which had so startled us. . . .

“And I myself must confess that I have never, either before or since, heard them make any sound similar to the sinister wailings they moaned that day.”


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