2015 Ross Dependency - Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

The 2015 Ross Dependency stamp issue looks back to more than a century ago, when explorers from the ‘heroic age’ of polar exploration embarked on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The expedition was made up of two teams on opposite sides of the continent — one's tale heralded as the ‘greatest survival story ever told’, the other's as ‘the greatest survival story never told’. 

Please note that these stamps are not valid for postage in New Zealand.

Issue information

Although the expedition failed to achieve its goal of making the first land crossing of the Antarctic continent (from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea), it is recognised as an impressive feat of endurance. Captained by New Zealander Frank Worsley, the S.Y. Endurance became trapped in pack ice, resulting in the abandonment of the ship. Despite several efforts to free the ship, it was crushed by the ice and sank in November 1915, stranding the men on the ice.

The crew were forced to camp on the ice for months before journeying via lifeboats to Elephant Island. From there Shackleton and five men voyaged in the James Caird lifeboat to South Georgia to effect a rescue. Once land was made, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley marched across treacherous terrain to reach a whaling station on the far side of the island. After many attempts, and 128 days, all 22 remaining men left behind on Elephant Island were rescued.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the continent, the success of Shackleton’s proposed crossing depended on support from the Ross Sea Party 1914–1917. Sailing from Hobart, Australia, the aim of the S.Y. Aurora's crew was to lay supplies and fuel for Shackleton and his men. Tragedy struck on 6 May 1915 when the Aurora (moored just offshore from the Cape Evans hut) broke free, stranding ten ill-equipped men on Ross Island. Unknown to the men, Shackleton would never make it across the continent; they continued to lay store depots along the route Shackleton had proposed. Sadly three men perished during the expedition; the remaining party was rescued in January 1917 by the Aurora Relief Expedition (1916-1917) with Shackleton aboard.

80c - The Endurance

Captained by New Zealander Frank Worsley, the S.Y. Endurance was laden with equipment, animals, supplies and men. Her loss in the crushing pack ice on her maiden voyage was felt keenly by the men. She sank on 21 November 1915; Shackleton, hoisting the blue ensign, was the last to leave.

80c - Ocean Camp

With the Endurance uninhabitable, Shackleton’s men were forced to pitch tents on a substantial ice floe about 1.6 kilometres square. The camp was christened Ocean Camp and was home to the 28 men and their dogs for around two months. Ocean Camp was abandoned on 23 December 1915 as the summer advanced.

$1.40 - Elephant Island to South Georgia

Shackleton’s men made it to Elephant Island in three small boats, alive but increasingly exhausted. Their hope of survival lay in a difficult sea voyage on the James Caird. The crew of six left Elephant Island on 24 April 1916 and reached South Georgia 16 days later after battling massive seas, ice, exhaustion and thirst.

$2.00 - The Aurora

When the S.Y. Aurora was purchased by Shackleton it was old and in need of repair. Captain Aeneas Mackintosh had a few short weeks to set things right. Despite being swept out to sea with the ice, and the loss of her main rudder, she ultimately returned to New Zealand with her crew intact. The Aurora Relief Expedition 1916- 1917 under John King Davis rescued the Ross Sea Party.

$2.50 - Laying the Depots

Shackleton depended on the Ross Sea Party laying depots on the final stage of his crossing. Before the unexpected departure of the Aurora, carrying with it a large proportion of their supplies, the team had managed to lay two depots. A second sledging expedition resulted in the death of three team members. They had completed their task at great loss, although the depots would never be used.

$3.00 - Rescue of the Ross Sea Party

With the loss of three of their party, the remaining men, despite some mental and physical ill health, continued their scientific observations. With no option but to wait out the winter, they hunted seals for food and blubber to fuel their stove. Greasy soot from the burning blubber pervaded the hut and covered the men in filth, so that when they were rescued by the Aurora, with Shackleton aboard, they looked like ‘wild men’.

Collectables commemorating the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

Included in this historic Ross Dependency issue are a set of two miniature sheets, a set of two first day covers and a set of two miniature sheet first day covers. Each of the sets separates the stamps into two groups - one focusing on the Endurance expedition and one focusing on the Ross Sea Party expedition. The first day covers include photographs of the Endurance expedition and the Ross Sea Party expedition, while the miniature sheets and miniature sheet first day covers feature maps of the routes taken by the expeditions.

Learn more about this incredible story with the presentation pack

You can learn more about the extreme hardship and incredible survival shown during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition with the presentation pack. The pack contains the six gummed stamps, the set of two miniature sheets and the set of two first day covers and has been written by the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

A truly in-depth look at the ‘heroic age’ of polar exploration

For the ultimate Ross Dependency collectable, order the Limited Edition. This premium collectable has been produced in limited numbers, and contains exclusive stamp products - including colour separations of the $3.00 stamp, a unique miniature sheet, plate blocks of each of the six stamps and a unique first day cover signed by Rt Hon Paul East CNZM QC, Chair of the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Alongside these exclusive collectables, you’ll find a booklet written by the Antarctic Heritage Trust, which tells the story of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in more detail.

Technical information

Date of issue: 4 November 2015
Number of stamps: Six gummed stamps
Stamps and first day covers designed by: Jonathan Gray, New Zealand Post, Wellington, New Zealand
Denominations: 80c x2, $1.40, $2.00, $2.50 and $3.00
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print Ltd by offset lithography
Number of colours: Four process colours
Stamp size and format: 50mm x 25mm (horizontal)
Paper type: Stamps: Tullis Russell 104gsm red phosphor gummed stamp paper. 
Number of stamps per sheet: 25
Perforation gauge: 14.4 x 14
Period of sale: Unless stocks are exhausted earlier, these stamps will remain on sale until 3 November 2016. First day covers will remain on sale until 3 January 2016.