Macklin’s birthday!

September 2, 2019


Colonel Alexander Hepburne Macklin, OBE, MC, TD, Scottish physician and RAMC officer, was born 1 September, 1889, in India. Macklin was surgeon on Shackleton’s Imperial Transcontinental Antarctic Expedition aboard Endurance and returned south with Shackleton aboard the Quest in 1921. Macklin was attending to Shackleton during the attack of angina pectoris that killed him in January, 1922, aboard the Quest.

Macklin was born in India where his father was a doctor. His family then moved to England and lived in the Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast. The diary of Thomas Orde Lees related more early life facts of Macklin:

‘Macklin is a Scotchman born and bred in the Scilly Isles where his father is one of the leading practitioners. Educated at Plymouth College and Edinburgh University, he held a position in a hospital in Manchester before joining the expedition.’

When Shackleton announced his 1914 expedition, Macklin sent an application. When he received no response, he simply went to the expedition’s London office at New Burlington Street and presented himself to Shackleton, a man in a state of constant hurry. Macklin had met Frank Wild earlier that day and they lunched together. Wild perhaps got a good sense from Macklin and perhaps encouraged him to wait for an interview with the Boss. Later, he received a very brief interview in which a strong personality and the ability to joke caught Shackleton’s attention. He was accepted for the expedition.

Macklin spent a lot of time with the expedition dogs. Lees wrote:

‘He [Macklin] is one of our hardest workers, continually out amongst his dogs even in the most inclement weather. Both doctors have dog teams and have developed into very efficient drivers. It seems funny work for doctors to be doing.’

Dr Macklin (SPRI)

Shackleton had split the expedition’s dogs into six teams in April, 1915, and each team had a regular driver. As well as the two doctors, Macklin and James McIlroy, Frank Wild, Frank Hurley, Tom Crean and George Marston each had command of a team. Crean’s care for the pups under his care is well-known but the others also had newly born pups to care for too. Less recorded on 10 August, 1915, that Macklin’s dependents, the puppies of Sue, were growing up well.

‘There are also two little brown puppies coming on, about four months old. These are under Dr Macklin’s charge.’

During the weeks after the foundation of Patience Camp, Macklin was involved in the return voyages to Ocean Camp to collect foods and other items. For example, Shackleton wrote about an early mission:

‘I sent Hurley and Macklin to Ocean Camp to bring back the food that we had had to leave there. They returned with quite a good load, including 130 lbs. of dry milk, about 50 lbs. each of dog-pemmican and jam, and a few tins of potted meats. When they were about a mile and a half away their voices were quite audible to us at Ocean Camp, so still was the air.’

As the days on the ice of Patience Camp were coming to an end, the dogs of the expedition were periodically shot and fed to the others or eaten by the men themselves. Most of the last dogs to be shot on 30 March, 1916, were in Macklin’s team. ‘They were faithful hardworking servants, he wrote, ‘and would have done good work had the Trans-Continental journey been started on’.

Greenstreet and Macklin. (SPRI)

When the twenty-eight men finally took to the three lifeboats on 9 April, 1916, Macklin was aboard the Dudley Docker. He was certainly ready to leave the ice behind at that stage. ‘We said goodbye to all that as left of Patience Camp. Well it deserved its name, and no sorrow was felt on leaving it.’

During the journey in the Dudley Docker, Worsley had been steering unrelieved for up to eighteen hours. When he finally agreed to be relieved, his body was so stiffened and cramped that he could not move himself. He had to be straightened out before he could lie down. Worsley recalled the tale and Macklin’s part in it:

‘As the men were rubbing me to restore circulation I fell asleep. They then placed me under the meagre shelter of the tent, and I remained unconscious of anything until land was again sighted an hour later. Greenstreet then, wishing to know which way to steer, told the others to waken me, but their most strenuous efforts to do this failed. Finally one of them asked Doctor Macklin whether I were dead. After examining me he said that I was alive, and McLeod, an old salt, declared that he could wake me up, and succeeded in doing so by dealing two hearty kicks on the back of the head.’

When the men, some now in poor medical condition, very distressed and exhausted, Macklin and McIlroy were crucial for the well-being of the Elephant Island party, from April to August, 1916. The men in the worst conditions needed monitoring such as Lewis Raphael Rickinson with a possible stroke and Huberht Taylor Hudson with a large boil on his backside as well as suffering from a nervous breakdown of sorts. Most critical was Perce Blackborow who had been suffering from severely frostbitten toes since his time in the ‘Stancomb Wills’ boat. His toes had become gangrenous and Macklin and McIlroy decided to amputate. For more on poor Perce’s operation on Elephant Island, see my blog post:

On the day, 30 August, 1916, that Yelcho arrived at Elephant Island to rescue the twenty-two stranded men, Macklin ran to the uphill and used his old Burberry jacket attached to an oar as a makeshift flag. Lees wrote:

‘Macklin ran to the snow-slope and fixing his jacket on to the lanyard of an oar doing duty as a mast over the old ice-cave, hoisted it as well as the running gear would permit, which was only about half-mast, and which Sir Ernest afterwards told us made his heart sink as he took it to be a sign that we had lost some our number.’

In his book, South, Shackleton recognised the work of Macklin and McIlroy during their time on Elephant Island:

‘It is largely due to Wild, and to his energy, initiative, and resource, that the whole party kept cheerful all along, and, indeed, came out alive and so well. Assisted by the two surgeons, Drs. McIlroy and Macklin, he had ever a watchful eye for the health of each one.’

Following the rescue and return to England, Macklin joined the Royal Ambulance Medical Corps for the rest of the war. This journal entry shows his willingness to join up once home.

Page from Macklin’s ‘Endurance’ diary. (SPRI, 1588; BJ)

He saw action in in France, Russia and Italy. It was for his bravery tending to the wounded under fire in Italy, with the 11th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, that Macklin was awarded the Military Cross. His award was later commemorated on a stamp design from the British Antarctic Territory.

Macklin commemorated on a BAS stamp

Shackleton’s South recognised Macklin’s war efforts:

‘Macklin served first with the Yorks and later transferred as medical officer to the Tanks, where he did much good work. Going to the Italian front with his battalion, he won the Military Cross for bravery in tending wounded under fire.’

Shackleton tried to remain in contact with the men of Endurance. On 21 June, 1917, he wrote to Macklin:

Dear Macklin.

Tremendous pressure of work has prevented me replying to your letter of 3rd June which I was delighted to receive from you. I have heard from Mick, seen Wild, also Wordie, and heard from Hussey. Poor old McCarthy went down in a torpedoed ship the other day. I am just waiting for an appointment which I expect will take me to Russia very shortly. When this war is over I, like you, hope we may all foregather.

You say that the tanks are tame after the Antarctic. I can quite understand that for our trouble was always at hand there. However we all got through and I hope we will all get through this business. I always have the warmest feelings of friendship and gratitude towards you for you never failed me throughout the Expedition. The best of luck to you.

Your cautious old boss.


Following the end of the war, Macklin continued his service with the RAMC and volunteered for service in Russia. In this posting he was temporarily reunited with Shackleton. There were other Endurance companions brought together in Russia. As Worsley wrote:

‘There was plenty of ice and snow to remind us of old times, and it was just as though we had never separated at all. Shackleton had also got hold of Macklin and Hussey. The old gang was on the warpath!’

For his service, ‘in recognition of valuable services rendered in connection with military operations in Murmansk, North Russia’, Macklin was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) on 11 November, 1919.

Shackleton invited Macklin to join his expedition south aboard the Quest. There were plenty of Endurance boys involved—Frank Worsley, Leonard Hussey, Frank Wild, James McIlroy, Alexander Kerr, Thomas MacLeod and Charles Green.

Macklin assisted in the preparations for the expedition and he was sent to Canada, as Wild wrote, to ‘collect together at some suitable spot a hundred good sledge-dogs of the ‘Husky’ type.’ He was later recalled from this mission as plans were changed and no such dogs were required.

Macklin had been treating Shackleton throughout the early stages of the expedition and was with Shackleton when he suffered an attack of angina pectoris that led to his death on 5 January, 1922. Wild gave Macklin the responsibility of preparing and disposing of the body of the Boss. For more on Shackleton’s death, see my blog post:

5 or 6 May, 1922. Worsley, Wild, Kerr, McLeod, Green, Macklin and McIlroy. The ‘Endurance’ men of the ‘Quest’ at the Boss’s grave. Photograph by Herbert Wilkins

In 1926, Macklin moved to Dundee, Scotland, and set up practice there. During World War II, he resumed his service with the RAMC, serving as a Lieutenant Colonel in East Africa. He received the Territorial Decoration (TD) for his war service and retired from the military in August, 1948, with the honorary rank of Colonel.

Macklin married Jean (d. 1997) in 1947 and the pair moved to Aberdeen. They had two sons, Sandy and Richard. Macklin worked in various Aberdeen medical institutions before he retired from practice in 1960.

Charles Green, William Bakewell, Alexander Macklin, Lionel Greenstreet, Walter How & James McIlroy. An ‘Endurance’ reunion.


Huntford, R. Shackleton. London, 2000.

Shackleton, E. H. South! The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917. New York, 1920.

Thomson, J. Elephant Island & Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees. Norwich, 2003.

Wild, F. Shackleton’s Last Voyage: The Story of the Quest. London, 1923.

Worsley, F. A. Endurance: An Epic of Polar Adventure. New York, 2000.

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