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History / Museum talk on Shackleton’s six Shetland pallbearers

Jon Sandison has researched the lives of ‘unassuming, humble characters’

Six Shetlanders were the pallbearers for the burial of Ernest Shackleton in 1922.

A LOCAL historian is to give a talk marking the centenary of the burial of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the lives of the six Shetland pallbearers.

Shetland Museum and Archives will kick off its Year of Stories with the talk by Anderson High School history teacher and military historian Jon Sandison on Saturday 5 March.

It will be exactly a century since Shackleton’s funeral was held in the Norwegian church at Grytviken, South Georgia with 100 Norwegian and British whalers in attendance. The six pallbearers were all Shetlanders and WWI veterans.

The Irish-born Shackleton, one of the world’s most renowned explorers, led three expeditions to the Antarctic.

He died of a heart attack in January 1922 while his ship was moored in South Georgia on his final expedition, and was buried there at his wife’s request several weeks later.

Sandison explained: “One hundred years on, it is so important that we can pay tribute to the extraordinary lives of these six Shetland men who, by circumstance and employment, were chosen to be the pallbearers to one of the most renowned explorers of all time.

“Whilst it is generally known that Shetlanders were pallbearers to Shackleton, the fact that their story to this day has continually stayed below a local historical radar is in itself a testament to the type of unassuming, humble characters they were, despite all that they saw and witnessed.”

There will also be a small exhibition in the museum galleries which has been created to mark the centenary of the burial.

It includes a fragment of a bronze leaf from one of the wreaths placed on Shackleton’s grave in 1922. The fragment was brought to Shetland by John Harrison of Northmavine, as a souvenir from his time as a whaler on South Georgia.

Museum curator Carol Christiansen added: “We are very pleased that Jon has agreed to share the research he has undertaken on the lives of these men.

“One of the themes of Shetland Museum and Archives’ Year of Stories is ‘overcoming hardship’. There could be no better example than the Shetland men who took whaling jobs in South Georgia after being away from Shetland during their service in the Great War.

“And 100 years ago, they found themselves laying to rest another compatriot who had overcome adversity and hardship.”

The event is being supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories fund, being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museum Galleries Scotland with support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

  • The talk will take place twice on Saturday 5 March, at 11am and 2pm, in the Shetland Museum and Archives auditorium. Tickets are priced £5 and available here.