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Friday, August 13, 2010

113 Year Old Scotch and the Famous Mason Who Owned It

Antarctic explorer and Freemason Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton is in the news this week, in an unusual story. Shackleton was born in County Kildare, Ireland, on February 15, 1874. Educated at Dulwick College, he entered the mercantile marine service and became a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve. During his lifetime, he made four daring expeditions to the Antarctic attempting to reach the South Pole.
Shackleton was initiated into Navy Lodge No. 2612 (UGLE) on 9 July 1901, although he took his sweet time advancing Masonically—he was a little busy. Right after his initiation he left on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s failed Antarctic expedition to reach the South Pole. Shackleton returned three years later, but set out on his own expedition in 1907 that came within 114 miles of the South Pole in January 1909. Shackleton was finally passed to the Fellow Craft degree on November 2, 1911 in Guild of Freemen Lodge No. 3525, and was raised to the Master Mason degree by that lodge on May 30th, 1913. This Lodge was technically restricted only to Freemen of the City of London, but the lodge conducted his degrees by courtesy, and he was made an honorary member on April 28th, 1914.

Competing explorer Roald Amundsen (who is also claimed by some to be a Mason, although there is no verified record) made it to the South Pole in 1912, so Shackleton's next exploit was to attempt to cross Antarctica from coast to coast, by way of the Pole. His Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition between 1914–17 became most famous for the disastrous wreck of his ship, Endurance, and the survival and rescue of the crew and exploration team. When their ship was crushed by ice floes, 28 men fled in lifeboats to a desolate island, while Shackleton and five others rowed 800 miles in an open boat to South Georgia Island for help. All survived. (See Leon Zeldis' excellent paper, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Luis Pardo: Two Masons Joined by Fate and Heroism for the story of this incredible adventure.)

Shackleton died on January 5, 1922 at the start of a new expedition, which he had publicly announced in London at a Ladies Festival of the Guild of Freemen Lodge.

His family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus means 'by endurance we conquer.'

So why is this of any interest to anyone besides Antarctiphones and Antarctists?

It seems that during Shackleton's 1907 attempt to make the Pole, he left behind some very special provisions in his small wooden shack at Cape Royds. In 2006, archeologists examining the hut discovered a crate buried in the ice, containing 11 bottles of Mackinlay's Scotch whisky, wrapped in paper and straw to protect them from the cold. The frozen crate was carefully removed from the ice earlier this year, and in spite of the minus 22 Fahrenheit (-30 Celsius) temperature, the whisky, bottled in 1896 or 97, could be heard joyously sloshing in the bottles.

This Scotch is unlikely ever to be tasted, but master blenders will examine samples of it to see if they can replicate the brew. The original recipe for the Scotch no longer exists.

Once samples have been extracted and sent to Scottish distiller Whyte and Mackay, which took over Mackinlay's distillery many years ago, the 11 bottles will be returned to their home—under the floorboards of Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds on Ross Island, near Antarctica's McMurdo Sound.

"Those bottles have to go back to that hut in Antarctica. It's where they belong," Lizzie Meek from the Antarctic Heritage Trust told New Zealand television.

Whisky lover Michael Fraser Milne, a Scot who runs the Whisky Galore liquor outlet in Christchurch, described the rare event as a great experience.

"Tasting something distilled in 1896 would be a whisky person's ultimate dream," Milne told New Zealand television.

The crate will remain in cold storage and each of the 11 bottles will be carefully assessed and conserved over the next few weeks.

Some samples will be extracted, possibly using a syringe through the bottles' cork stoppers.

McChoppin blogsite gives more details about Shackleton's 1907 Nimrod Expedition, from which this case of whisky came. According to McChoppin:

Whisky wasn’t the only thing they brought with them. On Christmas Day, 1908, while navigating the Beardmore, the four men, Shackleton, Wild, Marshall, and Adams celebrated the day with cigars and crème de menthe. So maybe there is some crates of McGuinness crème de menthe and a couple boxes of Dunhills. I wonder what else is buried under the ice of Antarctic?

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