Episode 1 - The journey begins


At the outset of the creation of this game, our Escape Mail team decided we wanted to tell an inspiring true story that stuck remarkably close to the facts of real history; perhaps closer than any other game of its kind. So we studied the incredible account of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in great detail and extracted countless key facts, figures, notes (and more!) in order to build our puzzle structure, not to mention the narrative itself. As a result, we hope you’ll feel as if you were transported to an icy world where you walk in the footsteps of brave adventurers from long ago!

Here is a compilation of some of the various historical aspects of our game, as well as the degree to which these do or do not correspond to the real, historical accounts.

Story pages and puzzle pages

Story pages are as accurate as we could possibly make them, including dates, key events, and even exact phrases written or spoken by various crew members. The puzzle pages, on the other hand, include some fictional elements to help support the puzzle content. 

Expedition Name and objective

The name of the expedition has not been changed. As the name suggests, there was a very nationalistic motivation to be the first to cross the Antarctic Continent. Historians have called Shackleton’s voyage the last major expedition of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. It is hard to emphasize just how strongly nationalistic motivations urged explorers to take great risks in their travelling endeavours during this time period.

selection strategy

While Shackleton does not explicitly state his selection strategy, history remembers him as a great leader, and part of the greatness of his leadership was in his discernment regarding which characters to bring along on the journey. As Lansing records in his 1959 work “Endurance”, Shackleton built his crew around a tested nucleus of veterans but seemed to be almost “capricious” in his selection of the rest of the crew. However he may be judged, he was successful either in selecting a great crew, or turning them into a great crew, or both.

crew positions

These are the actual crew positions on board The Endurance. (Frank) Wild’s name has been placed beside the Second-in-Command position, indicating the fact that he was one of the first people chosen by Shackleton. Wild had spent the years of 1908-09 on another voyage with Shackleton in a race to the South Pole and so Shackleton trusted him. In the depiction (left) we are suggesting Shackleton must have still been debating who would fill the other positions.


Shackleton had a difficult time raising funds for the trip. Perhaps it was because “crossing the continent” seemed a less-ambitious or worthwhile endeavour than simply reaching the pole (which Amundsen had already accomplished.) While funding was challenging, apparently it was not challenging to attract participants. Among the 5000+ inquiries, 3 of the interested parties were women. The advertisement has become somewhat famous for its less-than-appealing phraseology. However, as the original has never been found, some doubt its historical authenticity.

The Endurance

When creating this episode, we were sad to have to remove a plethora of incredible details regarding the construction methods of The Endurance (formerly “Polaris”; renaming the ship was in keeping with Shackleton’s family motto, see below). Of the many incredible features of its construction, one noteworthy feature is that Norweigan shipwrights included lumber from hand-selected trees to form the specific curved beams and members of the ship. For an astounding depiction of the quality of the contruction of The Endurance, refer to Lansing’s 1959 work “Enduance”.

Shackleton family motto

It can hardly be overstated how significant the Shackleton family motto is to the story of the 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The coat of arms (a drawing of the actual family coat of arms) contains the latin phrase “Fortitudine Vincimus” which means “by endurance we conquer”. It is perhaps through more than simply “enduring” that Shackleton’s crew is etched in history, but it is certainly not less. The extreme hardship that the crew was exposed to required a certain type of gritty hope that has inspired countless others around the world, over 100 years later.


There were a number of special projects that Shackleton strategically took on that he felt would increase the odds of success, including special sledges, tents and rations. Additionally, all the supplies listed left are just a small fraction of the incredible amount of gear that had to be acquired over the years leading up to the voyage.


Shackleton’s biographical account “South” states the Endurance sailed from Millwall Docks in London. Lansing’s account claims The Endurance sailed from London’s East India docks (portrayed left) on August 1, 1914. The image left is of the East India Docks and is dated “1881”, sourced from The British History Online.


Appropriate gear is critical for survival in harsh climates. Shackleton chose to bring gear of the traditional kinds (wool/tweed) as well as the new gabardine polar outfit as sold by Burberry. The advertisement left is a recreation of an actual, historical advertisement.


The Antarctic Continent and surrounding waters are teeming with life, especially during the warmer months. During their approach to Cahsel Bay through the Weddell Sea, Shackleton records “the bird life was plentiful”. While the crew likely did not see every animal depicted in the animal cards (left) it is possible, since each of those animals call the Antarctic region home.

CHURCHILL’s telegram

Shackleton’s voyage was nearly cancelled before it ever began. “The Great War” was just beginning, and Britain had issued a general mobilization. Shackleton and the crew wrote to the Admiralty putting the fate of the expedition in their hands. The response, an hour later, was a 1-word telegram: Proceed. Two hours later, Churchill wrote a longer telegram (different from the one depicted left, although its aesthetic was likely quite similar) stating that Shackleton had the full support of the Scientific and Geographical Societies. Doubtless some of the anxiety must have lifted for the crew while at the same time there was likely unease at leaving their homeland during such a tumultuous time.


Indeed there was a stowaway aboard The Endurance! While Shackleton does not even record the event of Perce Blackboro’s (Blackborrow?) discovery, Lansing tells a humourous story that we have alluded to in our game. We took liberties with the puzzle associated, but the actual event did in fact occur. Perce, only 18 years old at the time, had no idea of all that he would sacrifice on this voyage.

Due South

Frank Worsley (Captain) became increasingly valuable to the crew as a navigator as time went on. There is no evidence that Worsley ever made a patch, however we use the patch to communicate a little-known fact about the Southern Hemisphere. We even tried to teach players of the game how to find due South. Next time you’re navigating in the Southern Hemisphere, try it for yourself!

The Map

While we based our map on several sources, we relied heavily on a 1934 illustration by George Annand. Although the time period is innaccurate (post-dated by 20 years) we felt that it was the best depiction of Antarctica. We did our best to determine which areas of the Antarctic Continent were discovered and named by 1914 and which were not. We concede that we may have made some minor errors in this process. We also recognize that the colouration and style has a somewhat more American flair than what would have likely come from 1914 England, but nevertheless, we stand by our love for this map and hope that it aids in telling the ambitious plans of this incredible journey as well as engaging players in the story.


Robert S. Clark was indeed the biologist on board The Endurance. The sketch left is a depiction of him from our in-house artist Eric Reynolds. While we have depicted Clark as sitting up in the “spars and rigging” and “making puzzles”, history tells us it was likely Worsley (with his sharp eyes) on the lookout. Additionally, Lansing records that Clark was not much for games... but hey. We like him better this way!

If you would like to make a comment on this Episode’s historicity, please reach out to us on social media or email us at info@theescapemail.com. Thank you!


  • Hurley, Frank, and George Marston. State Library - New South Wales. State Library of NSW, 1914-1917. State Library of NSW, https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/. Accessed May 2024.
  • Lansing, Alfred. Endurance. Basic Books, 1959.
  • Shackleton, Ernest Henry. South. The Quarto Group, 2016.
  • Annand, George.1934 Annand Pictoral Map of the Byrd Antarctic Expedition. Geographicus Rare Antique Maps, 2024.Geographicus Rare Antique Maps,