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Able Seaman and Artist aboard The Endurance – The Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition


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Walter How was born in the Bermondsey district of London, England on Christmas Day in 1885. He went to sea at the age of 12 and served on many sailing ships. And was chosen as the Able Seaman for the Endurance Expedition which took place from 1914-1917.

This famous polar expedition was carried out in the Antarctic by Sir Ernest Shackleton. Walter was regarded as an asset to the crew, having worked in the sub-Arctic with the Canadian Auxiliary Survey Ship.
The Endurance Expedition was also known as the Imperial Trans Antarctic Expedition. It was conceived and led by Sir Ernest Shackleton with a team of 28 men. Their objective was to be the first group to cross the Antarctic continent on land after having reached it onboard the Endurance (nee Polaris) ship via the Weddell Sea. Unfortunately, the ship was beset by ice at sea, near Vahsel Bay, and it eventually crushed before sinking.
All her crew was left stranded on the ice but Shackleton is well-remembered for his kindness in looking after his men and ensuring that no life was lost. The men spent months on makeshift camps before finally reaching the uninhabited Elephant Island. From here, Shackleton and five crew members made an open boat, 800 mile journey to South Georgia to get help for the men who were waiting on Elephant Island. Thankfully, all the crew returned to England, safe and sound.

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When he set sail on the Endurance, Walter How had been married for only a year and his daughter was six weeks old. Upon his return to England after the expedition, he joined the merchant navy and became blind in one eye after his ship hit a German mine. He was awarded two War Medals for his bravery.

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After the war, Walter How put his natural artistic flair to good use by taking on jobs where he made lampshades, sailing ships and ships in bottles. He was also well-known for his painting and decorating skills. Interestingly, in his later years, some illustrations he had come up with were featured in a book titled ‘Shackleton’ which was written by Margery and James Fishers. It was published in 1957.

The book ‘SOUTH’ : The story of Shackleton's last expedition 1914 - 1917: is referred to in Walter How’s letter.
In 1921, Walter How planned to set sail once more with Sir Ernest Shackleton onboard the expedition ship known as the Quest. This did not come to be as Walter How withdrew his place upon the death of his father just before the ship left from Plymouth, England. This expedition of the Quest was not completed as Sir Ernest Shackleton died just as the ship reached South Georgia, an island in the sub Antarctic.

Walter How made it a point to keep in touch with his fellow seamen at dinners and reunions that were organised for the crew of the Endurance ship. In 1968, as one of the three surviving members, he was present at Portsmouth, England to celebrate with and encourage the crew of the Royal Navy’s new Antarctic survey ship, H.M.S. Endurance as they left for sea. Two years later, he was present to welcome them home after their successful journey. He was blessed to have seen the evolution of the expedition from a mere 28 men in his time to this final conquest which had 12 officers, 106 men and 2 helicopters.

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The involvement of a Tottenham man in this famous expedition was recognized by Cllr Douglas Clark who was Mayor of Haringey in 1973. He had received a letter from some former residents of Tottenham who had drawn his attention to the exploits of Walter How shortly after his death. They also provided a copy of a wonderful letter that had been written by Walter How in 1965 when he recalled some snippets of information regarding his personal involvement with the Antarctic expedition.




(For a complete transcript of Walter How’s letter please CLICK HERE.)

Walter How died of cancer on 5 August 1972. He was 86 years of age. Sir Ernest Shackleton was quoted as describing him as ‘a man among men’

We acknowledge that much of this information has been taken from a biography of Walter How found on



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To add more local interest to this story, at a presentation made at the ‘Local History Fair’ at Bruce Castle Museum in 2011 it transpired that, prior to his Expedition, Sir Ernest Shackleton lived for a while at an address in South Tottenham close to Stamford Hill. The lady who made the presentation was now living in the very same house and had discovered this fact while conducting the role of a house detective.

Was it just coincidence that Walter How lived just 2 miles away in Birkbeck Road and were they know to each other at this time. A fact I fear that we shall never know !

SHACKLETON'S EXPEDITION:   It's one of the greatest survival stories ever told - a group of men coming up against the face of adversity, many hurdles to cross, they survived.

It's an epic story !


Further to the above explanation about the talk given at the 'Local History Fair' in 2011, we have just received the following clarification from Jenny Brown who gave the original talk and has just been in touch:
 Just thought I'd do a quick and minor correction in relation to the interesting piece in the Tottenham Civic Society newsletter. It was I who gave the talk in 2012 on Shackleton and Stamford Hill. The slight misinterpretation in the article was that the Shackletons lived in my former house. They didn't but the freeholds for many of the houses, including mine, were owned by the Dormans and Emily Dorman became Shackleton's wife. My recently published book, Front Door to the Past, covers it in detail.

Article prepared by Alan Swain - May 2015


Updated January 2017

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