Shackleton: Well, that was the only serious instance of discord on the
expedition. My grandfather came upon Worsley confronting McNeish. McNeish was
refusing to obey orders, and Worsley was not handling it as well as he should
have. McNeish thought that he could make some decisions better himself, and
he said that since the ship was sunk, their obligations were over. They did
not have to obey orders.
My grandfather quietly went away and got a copy of the ship´s articles and
read them to the ship´s company. He said that though the ship had sunk, their
pay would continue until they reached port, and therefore they were all still
under his command. That ended the confrontation.
NOVA: If he hadn´t dealt with this problem immediately, what was at stake?
What could have happened if discipline had been lost on the expedition?
Shackleton: Well, I don´t think that because of McNeish´s behavior all
discipline would have been lost. But it was a hugely selfish thing for
McNeish to have done, because they could only get back alive by staying
together and staying united. Of course, McNeish was the oldest member of the
expedition, and he was in pain from dragging the sledges, but still, it was
an extraordinarily arrogant thing to do.
There is one story that my grandfather threatened to shoot him, which doesn´t
really seem his style, because he commanded by leadership qualities, not by
threats. Whatever it was, McNeish sort of knuckled down. Interestingly
enough, McNeish never referred to the confrontation in his diary.
My grandfather, for his part, referred to it obliquely saying, "I shall never
forgive the carpenter in this time of storm and stress." You see, he was hurt
by it, not furious but very hurt.
NOVA: Your grandfather dealt with the most difficult people by keeping them
in his own tent, right?
Shackleton: Yes, so they couldn´t spread their discord to other tents. In
confined spaces, when people don´t have a lot to eat, enmities can sometimes
be extremely destructive to the harmony of an expedition. So can alliances.
So he moved people around and noticed how people were getting on with each
other or not getting on with each other. It worked pretty well.
NOVA: Do you think that was one of his greatest skills, his ability to handle
Shackleton: Yes, but it was all based on knowing his men. It´s no good
knowing theoretically how to handle people if you don´t really notice what
people are like. He was extremely observant, and he was also pretty tolerant.
He made allowances for different priorities, with the exception of loyalty.
Loyalty was the most important thing to him.
NOVA: What do you think your grandfather´s greatest strengths were?