Speech on the occasion of the reception for the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting to mark the centenary of the rescue by Piloto Pardo of Shackleton’s crew from Elephant Island.
Welcome to the Residence. This is the 50th anniversary of t
he British Embassy in this historic house, which is part of the heritage of Chile, and which will be open to the public this weekend as part of the Día del Patrimonio.
Welcome to this reception, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the rescue by Piloto Pardo of the Armada de Chile, of Shackleton’s men from Elephant Island.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
A favourite quote from the British poet T S Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’.
Shackleton’s story is one of great exploration, but a piece of Antarctic history that could have been very different, if there was not also Pardo’s story of a great rescue, and heroism, which we celebrate together this evening.
Another famous quote by Eliot, from ‘The Waste Land’ is:
Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road,
There is always another one walking beside you.
Eliot’s lines were inspired by Shackleton’s spiritual experiences described in his book ‘South’, on the traverse over South Georgia. Shackleton wrote:
During that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.
Exploration is something that inspires us all, and the interest of Antarctica something that unites us all. I originally was captivated by the story of Shackleton 30 years ago, when my husband, Jeremy Richards, came to Chile in HMS Endurance, named after Shackleton’s ship – you can see its plaque and picture in the dining room. I have also tried to learn more about Piloto Pardo and recently had the honour to give a talk, alongside Ambassador Fernando Pardo, in Punta Arenas, as part of the Mes del Mar. So, in all our exploring let us reflect on those such as Piloto Pardo, who risk their lives for others in the most testing of circumstances.
Shackleton set out the qualities needed of an explorer – first, optimism; second, patience; third, physical endurance; fourth, idealism; fifth, and last, courage. They were also qualities displayed by Pardo.
Following that traverse of South Georgia, Shackleton sought help from several sources to rescue his men stranded on Elephant Island. After 3 attempts failed, the Chilean government granted permission for the Yelcho to be used, and Piloto Pardo volunteered to undertake the high risk expedition. In my own research in our National Archives, I found the telegram confirming permission, but stating the Yelcho must not be risked in the ice! It is a good thing this instruction was ignored!
In his famous letter to his father, Piloto Pardo recognises that he may not return from the rescue attempt, but sets out his belief that this is the right thing to do for his fellow man, his country, and in demonstrating the values of the Armada de Chile. He set out in a ship not designed for the purpose.
As Alfonso Filippi, the author of ‘Lecciones de un Rescate’, states:
The vessel had no heating, no electrical lighting, no radio, no false bottom, and low bulwarks. To send her to Antartica was daring beyond belief. The only positive attribute suggesting a successful outcome to the mission was the quality, skill and courage of her crew.
Barriers of language, of time - a time of the First World War – and remember that for Shackleton, this was one element of a gruelling two year expedition, with still men trapped in the Ross Sea, on the other side of Antarctica, that needed rescue; meant perhaps Pardo’s role was not as well known as it should be. Pardo was offered £25,000, at the time - a fortune - by the British Government, but declined saying that he was only doing his duty. He later became Honorary Consul in Liverpool, an important position in a port, central to world trade.
The siren call of Antarctica persists. All of us here are committed to the Treaty system and Antarctica, as a reserve, devoted to peace and science. Many are interested in exploration and in testing the boundaries of human resilience and the challenges of knowledge. In January 2016, many of us were saddened by the loss of Henry Worsley, who died in Punta Arenas, after attempting the Shackleton Solo expedition to traverse Antarctica, in aid of the Endeavour Fund – a charity which helps wounded and sick servicemen. Someone who was inspired by Shackleton. Someone who also shared those values, epitomised by Pardo, of risking one’s own life in doing something for others.
After the rescue by Pardo, when Shackleton arrived in Punta Arenas, in September 1916, Shackleton sent a telegraph to Admiral Munoz Hurtado:
It is impossible to express my deep feelings of gratitude, for all that you have done for us, and I wish to place this on the record. Shackleton.
Shackleton published his book ‘South’ in 1919, to further raise funds for his expeditions. The thanks to the Government of Chile, and Luis Pardo, are in the most prominent place – at the end of the Preface:
Finally, it was the Chilean Government that was directly responsible for the rescue of my comrades. This southern Republic was unwearied in their efforts to make a successful rescue, and the gratitude of our whole party is due to them. I especially mention the sympathetic attitude of Admiral Munoz Hurtado, Head of the Chilean Navy, and Captain Luis Pardo, who commanded the Yelcho, on our last and successful venture.
And so tonight we also say thank you.
Thank you to our hosts here in Chile for this 39th ATCM. Thank you to the Armada de Chile for the training and values you instil in your men – and women – such as those demonstrated by Piloto Pardo. And thank you, in memory of Piloto Pardo, without whom Shackleton’s men from Elephant Island would not have been rescued, and in demonstrating the qualities of international co-operation, which unites us all this evening.
Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Chile.