In January 1915, Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance became locked in pack ice in the Weddell Sea. The dogs were moved off the ship and into new quarters – igloo-like structures the men humorously called dogloos. Houses were also made for the puppies and named puploos.
They were made from blocks of ice covered with thin sheets, boards or frozen sealskins. Snow was then piled on top and doused with water that froze like cement. These crystal-like villages sprang up around the ship. Some men created elaborate houses for their dogs with wooden floors and door frames. A dog named Sailor was given a church with an icy spire. Despite these efforts, the dogs preferred to curl up outside except in severe weather.
For his ambitious march across Antarctica via the South Pole, Ernest Shackleton purchased 100 dogs from Canada in 1914. They were cross-bred from wolves and large, strong dogs such as collies, mastiffs and hounds. Several litters of puppies born during the expedition added to their numbers.
Shortly before reaching the mainland, the ship Endurance became locked in pack ice. For 10 months, the pressure of the ice slowly crushed the hull and on 21 November 1915, the Endurance sank. Precious food supplies ran low and men and dogs both faced starvation. The difficult decision was made to shoot the dogs. In his memoir, Shackleton wrote that “it was the worst job that we had had throughout the Expedition, and we felt their loss keenly”.
Tragedy struck the Australasian Antarctic Expedition on 14 December 1912. While on a three-man sledging mission, Belgrave Ninnis, his dogs and the sledge disappeared into a deep crevasse, killing all of them. They had been hauling most of the group’s food.
The accident left Douglas Mawson and Xavier Mertz without precious supplies 500 km from their base at Cape Denison. Desperate and starving, the men were forced to kill and eat their six remaining dogs—George, Johnson, Mary, Haldane, Pavlova and Mawson’s favourite dog, Ginger.
Mertz grew ill and suffered from stomach pains, dizziness and delirium. He died from suspected vitamin A poisoning from eating dog liver but Mawson survived the ordeal. Pavlova Island and Ginger Reef near Cape Denison have recently been named in honour of the dogs.
On the journey to Antarctica, the deck was often the only place available to keep the dogs. In his diary on 1 December 1910, Captain Scott described their situation on the ship Terra Nova:
Upon the coal sacks, upon and between the motor sledges and upon the ice-house are grouped the dogs, thirty-three in all. They must perforce be chained up and they are given what shelter is afforded on deck, but their position is not enviable. The seas continually break on the weather bulwarks and scatter clouds of heavy spray over the backs of all who must venture into the waist of the ship. The dogs sit with their tails to this invading water, their coats wet and dripping. It is a pathetic attitude, deeply significant of cold and misery; occasionally some poor beast emits a long pathetic whine. The group forms a picture of wretched dejection; such a life is truly hard for these poor creatures.