The Antarctic Derby

“There is not one that is not to some extent a mongrel.”
— Thomas Orde-Lees


“On the 15th of the month a great race, the ‘Antarctic Derby,’ took place. It was a notable event. The betting had been heavy, and every man aboard the ship stood to win or lose on the result of the contest. Some money had been staked, but the wagers that thrilled were those involving stores of chocolate and cigarettes. The course had been laid off from Khyber Pass, at the eastern end of the old lead ahead of the ship, to a point clear of the jib-boom, a distance of about 700 yds. Five teams went out in the dim noon twilight, with a zero temperature and an aurora flickering faintly to the southward. The starting signal was to be given by the flashing of a light on the meteorological station. I was appointed starter, Worsley was judge, and James was timekeeper. The bos’n, with a straw hat added to his usual Antarctic attire, stood on a box near the winning-post, and was assisted by a couple of shady characters to shout the odds, which were displayed on a board hung around his neck — 6 to 4 on Wild, ‘evens’ on Crean, 2 to 1 against Hurley, 6 to 1 against Macklin, and 8 to 1 against McIlroy. Canvas handkerchiefs fluttered from an improvised grand stand, and the pups, which had never seen such strange happenings before, sat round and howled with excitement. The spectators could not see far in the dim light, but they heard the shouts of the drivers as the teams approached, and greeted the victory of the favourite with a roar of cheering that must have sounded strange indeed to any seals or penguins that happened to be in our neighbourhood. Wild’s time was 2 min. 16 sec., or at the rate of 10½ miles per hour for the course.”

— Ernest Shackleton, South

“Everyone wagers all available chocolates & cigarettes… the current coin… the betting fever rises high— finally… sovereigns take the place of chocolates and cigarettes. I get my modest ‘quid’ on Wild… but Sir Ernest goes on in his usual whole-hearted style & soon has a fiver on Wild, some at 2 to 1 and so on. [Shackleton acted] the ‘Rale Ould Irish sporting gentleman’.”

— Frank Worsley

“Another race took place a few days after the ‘Derby.’ The two crack teams, driven by Hurley and Wild, met in a race from Khyber Pass. Wild’s team, pulling 910 lbs., or 130 lbs. per dog, covered the 700 yds. in 2 min. 9 sec., or at the rate of 11.1 miles per hour. Hurley’s team, with the same load, did the run in 2 min. 16 sec. The race was awarded by the judge to Hurley owing to Wild failing to ‘weigh in’ correctly. I happened to be a part of the load on his sledge, and a skid over some new drift within fifty yards of the winning post resulted in my being left on the snow. It should be said in justice to the dogs that this accident, while justifying the disqualification, could not have made any material difference in the time.”

— Ernest Shackleton, South


About Ernest Shackleton

Polar Explorer. Leader of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917.
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