The Boss’ Memorial Cross transported over 7,000 thousand miles from South Georgia to Dundee aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough.

On Monday 20 May, it was announced that the cross from Shackleton’s Hope Point memorial will soon be on display at Discovery Point Museum; home of the Royal Research Ship (RRS) Discovery, the ship that first carried Shackleton to Antarctica in 1901.   

Following the untimely death of Sir Ernest Shackleton on 5 January 1922 on South Georgia, the Quest crew members of the Shackleton-Rowett expedition erected this memorial at Hope Point on South Georgia, near to Shackleton’s final resting place in Grytviken Cemetery. 

Bringing the Memorial Cross to Dundee is a collaboration between the Dundee Heritage Trust (DHT) the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI), and comes as the 150th anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s birth is celebrated across the globe; with events, conferences and celebrations planned throughout 2024.   

Ernest Shackleton, curtesy of Dundee Heritage Trust

A Memorial to The Boss 

The Hope Cross was constructed at Grytviken whaling station, South Georgia, by crew members of the Quest as a monument to Sir Ernest Shackleton following his death in 1922.  

The crew of Quest were unable to attend the funeral of their Expedition leader, having begun a journey south. The building of the memorial cairn and Hope Cross allowed them to pay their respects and reflect, placing a signed group photograph between the rocks of the cairn. 

Crafted from wood salvaged from a nearby whaling station and set upon a stone cairn, the Cross stood on Hope Point for close to a century, before the decision was made in 2018, by the owners GSGSSI, to remove the Cross and replace it with a replica, to protect its poignant legacy.  

SGHT approached DHT and proposed the Cross’s display and care at Discovery Point in Dundee alongside Shackleton’s first Antarctic ship, the RRS Discovery, in order that the Cross be shown in an accessible place for the public to view whilst being expertly cared for. It is hoped that the display of the Cross in Dundee will invite a wider audience to view this important piece of Antarctic heritage and pay its respects to a Polar explorer whose stories are revered the world over. The exhibition in Dundee also contributes to the GSGSSI’s aim that the public benefit from heritage objects on South Georgia and they be brought to a wider audience; not just those visiting South Georgia. 

Laura Willis, Chief Executive of Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, says “As custodians of our rich cultural and industrial heritage, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands were delighted to work with the curatorial team from the South Georgia Heritage Trust to facilitate the loan of the Shackleton Cross to Dundee Heritage Trust. This unique object embodies the spirit of exploration and endurance that has defined these islands since their discovery almost 300 years ago, through generations of whalers, adventurers, ecologists and conservationists that continue to push the frontiers of knowledge of the sub-polar regions to the present day.  

“We hope that its display to a wider audience will inspire visitors, enthusiasts and future generations to contemplate and appreciate the enduring legacy of one of the world’s greatest explorers, as well as the indomitable strength of human spirit.” 

Journey from South Georgia 

In early spring, the Cross – measuring almost 3 metres tall by 1 metre wide and weighing approximately 30kg – was loaded aboard the RRS Sir David Attenborough with assistance from GSGSSI and escorted by BAS crew, with whom both DHT and SGHT are working closely. The memorial artefact will travel over 7,000 miles to the UK. 

On arrival in the UK, the Cross will be stored by BAS before being collected by members of the DHT team in late July, with its estimated arrival in Dundee in August. 

A service is expected to be held to commemorate the Cross’s arrival at the home of the RRS Discovery, with more details to follow. 

Alison Neil, CEO of South Georgia Heritage Trust says “When the original Hope Cross was replaced on South Georgia back in 2021, the opportunity arose to share it with the public beyond the sub-Antarctic island’s 15,000 annual visitors. We at SGHT and the South Georgia Museum are thrilled that the Hope Cross can be cared for as part of the Discovery Point collection in Dundee, with all of its links to Sir Ernest Shackleton.”  

“This is a wonderful opportunity for many people to encounter the Cross and be inspired by the love and loyalty to ‘The Boss’ that caused it to be created and erected by his crew in his memory. We’re grateful to GSGSSI, DHT and to BAS for helping to preserve this iconic piece of Shackleton’s legacy, and hope that the public take this chance to see the Cross and support its preservation.” 

Fundraising

Dundee Heritage Trust is the only independent charity in Scotland that cares for two Recognised Collections of National Significance while operating two five-star visitor attractions. The Trust is currently undertaking major conservation works to the RRS Discovery, with the support of funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. Despite this funding, it remains a critical time for the charity in its fundraising efforts, for the continued care of the RRS Discovery

DHT hopes to raise £10,000 to create a fitting display for the Cross, to honour one of history’s most revered Polar explorers and allow enthusiasts worldwide to pay their respects, with the announcement accompanied by an appeal for donations from those who wish to pay homage to one of the world’s most famous Polar explorers and become part of the legacy of Sir Ernest Shackleton.  

Donations can be made online here, and allow the chance to leave a message of respect to ‘The Boss’, just as his crew did in 1922. 

Emma Halford-Forbes, Heritage & Exhibitions Director at Dundee Heritage Trust says, “We’re pleased to welcome the Hope Cross to Dundee this year and display it to a UK audience for the first time. Looking forwards, we have exciting plans for a capital redevelopment of Discovery Point, including a new permanent Polar exhibition, ‘Drawn to the Pole.’. Our plan is to display the Hope Cross as part of this new gallery, to make it accessible to a wider audience and create a respectful and reflective opportunity to pause and remember not just Shackleton, but all past Antarctic explorers.” 

Shackleton’s Dundee Connections  

The connections between Dundee and Ernest Shackleton include not only his ventures aboard the Dundee-built RRS Discovery in1901 but delve into the politics of the city; Shackleton unsuccessfully stood for election as a member of parliament there in 1906. In 1908, Shackleton was joined aboard the Dundee-built Nimrod by Alister Forbes-MacKay, who had been educated in Zoology at the Dundee University College under D’arcy Thompson. Later, funding from Dundee jute baron James Caird ensured the go-ahead of Shackleton’s famed Endurance Expedition.  

Updates of the journey of the Cross and details of its arrival in Dundee will be shared via Discovery Point’s social media channels. Anyone who wishes to support the fundraising campaign to create a fitting display for the Cross can do so via the Dundee Heritage Trust website. The charity will also soon reveal details of upcoming talks and events to celebrate Sir Ernest Shackleton.  

The Hope Cross curtesy of Jayne Pierce