He was leading an expedition to Antarctica, and its primary objective was the greatest geographical prize of the time – to reach the South Pole.
This was to be the third British expedition to the Ross Sea region within 10 years, the first being Borchgrevink’s British Antarctic Expedition 1898-1900, and the second, Scott’s National Antarctic Expedition 1901-1904. Shackleton stated that he intended to establish his base in King Edward V11 land at the eastern end of the Ross Ice Shelf, and from this location to undertake the journey to the South Pole. He assured Scott that he did not intend to enter McMurdo Sound or make use of Scott’s old base at Hut Point, since Scott claimed rights not only to the hut he had built in1902 but also to the route to the Pole that he had pioneered.
Although finance was tight, Shackleton proceeded to recruit a group of 14 men, including scientists, who would make up the Shore Party of the expedition, and he purchased the 200 ton Nimrod. He also procured a specially designed, prefabricated hut, 15 Manchurian ponies (10 were taken south), nine dogs and an air-cooled, four-cylinder 11kw (15 hp) motorcar, the New Arrol-Johnston. Nimrod sailed from Torquay, England, bound for New Zealand on 30 July 1907.
Departing from Lyttelton, New Zealand, on 1 January 1908, Nimrod was cheered on by a huge crowd, the shriek of stream whistles and the crash of guns. But behind the cheers and celebration Shackleton was beset by anxiety: Nimrod was dangerously overloaded with 255 tons of coal, equipment and food, and had just one metre of freeboard!
To save her limited cargo of coal, she was towed south by Koonya, a steel built steamer of some 1,100 tons. Within days Nimrod was taking on water through the scupper holes and wash ports. It was an arduous trip and Shackleton later wrote that Nimrod performed under tow ‘like a reluctant child being dragged to school.’ Finally the tow, of some 1,510 miles (2,410 km) finished on 15 January with the sighting of the first icebergs.
Shackleton headed for an inlet on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf where he intended to establish his base, but, since his last visit to the area, many kilometres of the ice shelf had calved into the sea, obliterating his planned landing place. Faced by impenetrable pack ice, he also had to abandon his second choice for a base, King Edward V!! Land, and was forced to head for McMurdo Sound, despite his promise to Scott.