The unlucky life of Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh | Polarjournal

Few would doubt the bravery of Aeneas Mackintosh. Had his luck been better, the British sailor and explorer might have been remembered as one of the greats of Antarctic exploration

Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh was born on 1 July 1879, in Tirhut, Bihar, India. He was a British sailor and polar explorer and participated in the Nimrod expedition from 1907 to 1909 led by Ernest Shackleton. During Shackleton’s Endurance expedition in 1914 to 1917, he led the effort to set out supplies. In the course of this venture, Mackintosh died at McMurdo Sound, presumably on 8 May 1916, under circumstances that are not clearly understood, while crossing an unsafe patch of ice together with another expedition member
In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton commissioned the Aurora and its crew to set up supply depots along the route for his Imperial Transantarctic Expedition. After the Aurora had been stopped by sea ice in McMurdo Sound in January 1915, it managed to advance further south after being released. Teams were sent out to set up the depots. The ship finally reached Discovery Bay on 12 March 1915, where it anchored and unloaded more supplies. In May, however, the Aurora was again trapped in the ice and drifted out to the sea, stranding the men who had set up the depots. The Aurora remained trapped in the ice for almost a year, drifting about 1,600 nautical miles. The ship did not escape the ice until 12 February 1916, and returned to Dunedin, New Zealand, on 3 April (Text: Wikipedia)

The coat of arms of the Mackintosh, proud Scottish clan chiefs, shows a lion, a boar, a sailing ship and a fist holding a heart. All of these symbols were to have an important meaning in the short life of Aeneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh. He was born in Bihar, northeast India, in 1879, when the British Empire under Queen Victoria was at the height of its power, as one of five Mackintosh sons. His father, Alexander had been an indigo planter, whether he was a success at it or not, we do not know. Nor do we know why his mother, Annie, left her husband in 1894 and returned to England with her five sons and daughter. Little Aeneas was sent to boarding school, as was customary in England at the time, and then completed a commercial apprenticeship. At 16, his thirst for adventure got the better of him, and he went to sea like the legendary Trojan prince he was named after. From 1899, he worked his way up the ranks to become a merchant officer with the P&O Company.

The expedition consisted of two groups distributed on two ships. The Endurance, which carried Shackleton with the main party, was to sail into the Weddell Sea to land. In the meantime, the Aurora and the Ross Sea Party as to travel to the opposite side of the continent and set up a series of depots from McMurdo Sound toward the Antarctic interior. The Endurance got stuck in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea before it could reach its destination, Vahsel Bay. After the ship was crushed in the ice and sank, the crew managed to reach Elephant Island in lifeboats. A small group continued on to South Georgia to organise assistance. All members of the main group were saved in the end. The crew of the Aurora laid the planned depots with great difficulty; three men died (Illustrations: Wikipedia)

A picture of Mackintosh from this period shows him as a handsome man with even features, an angular energetic chin and seemingly arrogant attitude. A man who has great things in store. It also began quite promisingly for Mackintosh. Through the intervention of a P&O Company officer, Mackintosh met Ernest Shackleton in 1907. The latter was planning his British Antarctic Expedition, which was to go down in the history books as the Nimrod expedition of 1907-1909. Shackleton wanted to be the first to travel to the South Pole and hired the impulsive Mackintosh as second officer.

Mackintosh lost an eye in an accident, but never his enthusiasm for Antarctica

Barely arrived in Antarctica, Mackintosh lost his right eye while unloading the Nimrod. After emergency surgery, he traveled back to New Zealand. One-eyed, but in good spirits, he rejoined Shackleton’s expedition in January 1909. He was to set out depots for the returnees from the South Pole. Once again, luck was not on the Scotsman’s side: a poorly thought-out passage over the ice to Cape Royds almost cost him his life.

Back in England, his run of misfortune continued: his diminished eyesight earned him notice from the P&O Company. His friend Shackleton, who had failed to reach the South Pole, commissioned Mackintosh to travel to the Carpathians to get an idea of the gold mines there, which Shackleton held shares in and wanted to use to finance a new South Pole expedition. The success of this mission remains unverified. Another source reports a 1909 voyage by Mackintosh to the Cocos Islands in the South Pacific.

On 8 May 1916, Mackintosh and Victor Hayward set out from Hut Point (A) to walk across the ice to Cape Evans (B). They disappeared in the area marked C, and no trace of them was ever found. The image shows the Erebus Ice Tongue extending from the Erebus Glacier on Ross Island into frozen McMurdo Sound (Illustration: Wikipedia)

On the tiny islet, our Scotsman is said to have searched for a Spanish gold treasure. Probably ill-fortuned again, because in 1913 he took an office job in Liverpool. A year earlier he had married. Gladys, née Campbell, gave Aeneas two daughters. Our hapless globetrotter missed the birth of his second child in 1914 as he was in Australia at the time. He participated in a South Pole expedition for the second time, this time as a member of the group that was to set out depots for Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Since Roald Amundsen had already reached the South Pole in December 1911, Shackleton now planned to cross the ice continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Ice Shelf.

Known as the Ross Sea Party, the group was marked by mishaps and bad luck, not least because of Mackintosh’s swashbuckling character. He dared, just recovered from life-threatening scurvy, a forced march by sled, in which a large part of the dogs died and the morale of the crew evapourated. They already had to deal with the loss of the Aurora, which was ravaged by a storm, unable to return, and drifting unreachable at sea, loaded with provisions, fuel and equipment Mackintosh and his men would have needed to survive. Nevertheless, the men made attempts to complete the task set by Shackleton, which they again almost paid for with their lives.

But the situation was getting worse for the group due to lack of supplies. On 8 May 1916, Mackintosh and Victor Hayward set out on a suicide mission: to cross the ice on foot from Hut Point to Cape Evans in search of food at Scott’s base. Shortly after the two set out, a huge blizzard hit and the two disappeared without a trace.

Returning from the supply mission in February 1916, expecting to die soon, he wrote a farewell message that closed ” … if it is God’s will that we should here give up we do so in the true British fashion my own tradition holds us in power to do. Goodbye my friends, I know that my dear wife and children will be looked after.” After her husband’s death, Gladys Mackintosh married the first officer of the Aurora, Joseph Stenhouse.

Cross and plaque on Wind Vane Hill, Cape Evans, Ross Island, erected for the Ross Sea Party of the Endurance Expedition (1914-1916) in memory of three members of the party who died nearby in 1916

In an ironic twist of fate, it turned out that Shackleton did not need the depots he had ordered to be set out; since his ship, the Endurance, was frozen and crushed on the Weddell Sea. The wreck entered the collective memory as a symbol of failure, and Shackleton as a tragic hero. Mackintosh, the navigator with the heart of a lion and the temper of a boar, remains, unfortunately, a footnote in history.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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