Dr. Alexander Macklin


Macklin closeup spareDr. Alexander Macklin was one of two surgeons on Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic (Endurance) Expedition 1914-1917. He also joined Shackleton on his final expedition aboard the Quest from 1921-22.

Early Life

Alexander Macklin was born in India, where his father was a doctor. The family returned home to England and settled in the Scilly Isles, off the coast of Cornwall. Macklin read medicine at Manchester University and shortly after qualifying, applied to join Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. During the interview, Shackleton asked Macklin (who wore glasses) what was wrong with his eyes. Macklin, who had a sense of humor, replied, ‘Many a wise face would look foolish without specs!’

South with Shackleton

Macklin and fellow surgeon James McIlroy were tasked with caring for the expedition’s sled dogs and driving the dog teams, along with their medical duties. Orde Lees, the expedition storekeeper, noted that Macklin was ‘one of our hardest workers, continually out amongst his dogs even in the most inclement weather.’ He added, ‘Both doctors have dog teams and have developed into very efficient drivers. It seems funny work for doctors to be doing.’

The Endurance became trapped by ice in the Weddell Sea and the dog teams were put to work, bringing back seals that had been shot for food. The ship was eventually crushed and sank, forcing the crew to trek across the ice, then travel by boat to Elephant Island. Macklin and the other dog teams relayed supplies from Ocean Camp (the first camp established near the ship) as the men began the long trek.

Shackleton and five men set out from Elephant Island to fetch help from South Georgia. Macklin and McIlroy were left behind to care for the crew, including Rickinson, who had a heart condition, Hudson who was suffering a nervous breakdown and Blackborow who had gangrene in his toes. The crew were eventually rescued and Macklin, along with others, was awarded the Silver Polar Medal for his efforts during the expedition.

World War 1 and a Second Antarctic Expedition

Macklin joined up and saw action in World War 1, serving as an officer in the Medical Corps on both the French and Russian Fronts. He won the Military Cross (M.C.) for bravery in tending the wounded under fire and was appointed an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his work in Russia. He confided to Shackleton however, that the tanks were ‘tame’ after their experiences Antarctica.

Shackleton invited Macklin to join his Shackleton-Rowett Expedition in 1921, on board the Quest. Shackleton was unwell during the voyage south and died of a heart attack on the eve of the ship’s arrival in South Georgia. The expedition continued under second in command Frank Wild, but was unable to undertake the planned coastal surveys, due to heavy ice and the ship’s limitations.

Later Years

Macklin returned home and set up a medical practice in Dundee, Scotland. He served in the Medical Corps in East Africa during World War II and retired from the army in 1948. His later years were spent in Aberdeen, where he married, had two sons, and worked in various hospitals. Macklin died in 1967 at the age of 77. He was one of the last surviving members of the Endurance expedition.

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