Mar 15, 2022

A Tale of Endurance


Unsurprisingly, Endurance - Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship found last week - was insured at Lloyd’s of London.

News that the Endurance was missing first came via Lloyd’s. The press reported that “apart from the natural anxiety as to the fate of Sir Ernest, underwriters are now somewhat concerned about the safety of the expedition ship Endurance which has not been heard of since she left South Georgia in December 1914 to carry the transatlantic party to their starting point.”

Lloyd’s and the Indemnity Marine Assurance Company had underwritten her hull, machinery and equipment for £15,000 at a rate of 10%. She was, in fact, the first vessel to take part in Antarctic exploration to be covered against all risks throughout her voyage. It had appeared to be a good risk as there had been no record of recent disaster to an Antarctic ship. Over the previous twenty years, twenty-three vessels had gone and returned home safely. Just before Endurance sailed, The Times reported,

"Hitherto the insurance of vessels taking part in Antarctic exploration has ceased at the last port touched, and Endurance will be the first vessel to be insured in the ice zone."

In 1907, a few years prior to his Endurance expedition, Sir Ernest ordered 300 bottles of the finest malt whisky for one of his other expeditions to Antarctica. It was remarkable because he was a teetotaller and as a teenager had sung anti-alcohol songs outside pubs, but he realised his companions liked a drink to relax and knew that it would help them to keep warm. The label on the bottle read ‘Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky’ and ‘Specially prepared for the British Antarctic Expedition 1907 - Ship Endurance’. His ship that time was actually named Nimrod. He had intended to change the name to Endurance but never got round to it.

In 2007, three cases of the whisky were discovered beneath Shackleton’s base camp. Originally created by Mackinlay’s, the brand is now owned by Whyte & Mackay and so, a few of the bottles were sent back to their headquarters in Scotland. They travelled in style, chained to the wrist of Whyte & Mackay’s Richard Paterson.

In a deal with the New Zealand government, Mr. Paterson could sample the liquid inside the bottles, but the corks couldn’t be removed. He ended up using a syringe and analysed it, allowing Shackleton's whisky to be replicated. They called the revived spirit Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Whisky and sold it at £250 a bottle.

Richard Paterson achieved master blender status for Whyte and Mackay by the age of 26, earning the nickname ‘The Nose’. He was so important to the firm that they insured his nostrils at Lloyd’s for £1.6 million.

“As the main tool of my trade, my tasting, assessing and blending skills are based on my sense of smell. This is of such importance to the distillery that at one time one of my managers decided to arrange insurance for my nose, just to make sure that we were covered should anything happen."


Many thanks to our friend and keen insurance historian, Paul Miller for this wonderful piece and permission to share it.

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