This week Ken Tracey explores another famous person's links to SE London and north Kent.

As a boy Ernest Henry Shackleton, the Antarctic explorer, sang temperance songs outside the pubs of Sydenham with his siblings and Quaker father.

Ernest was born on February 15, 1874 in Kildare, Ireland and at the age of 10 settled with his family at Aberdeen House, 12 Westwood Hill, Sydenham.

The house is now named St David’s and is converted into flats. A blue plaque commemorates his time there with his eight sisters and brother.

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He was educated at home by a governess until the age of 11, then attended Fir Lodge Preparatory School. Demolished in 1896 to make way for Sydenham Public Hall which later became a telecoms training school.

In 1887 he attended the prestigious Dulwich College, but he was bored by the lessons and became the class joker. He enjoyed the classic poets and wrote poetry himself and he had a skill for telling adventure yarns to his classmates.

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He yearned for an active life and pressed a band of boys to run away to sea with him, but they got no further than London Docks.

At 16 he became a merchant seaman of the lowest rank. After a tough voyage to South America, he returned undaunted and joined a tramp steamer as third mate.

On leave in Sydenham, he met a friend of his sisters’, Emily Dorman. She was upper class and shared his love of poetry. But he had to improve his finances and social status before he could propose to her.

With this added purpose he joined Scott’s expedition to Antarctica and almost reached the South Pole before failing health compelled him to return home.

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He worked in jobs ashore and married Emily in London in 1904. They had two sons and a daughter.

Ernest travelled twice more to the polar region, excelling in leadership and survival.

On his fourth expedition in 1922 he died of a heart attack en-route in South Georgia. Emily decided that he be buried there in the desolation that he loved.

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