In the Edwardian period the School at Long Millgate saw two polar explorers visit in successive years; Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott, who were fierce rivals.
Shackleton visited first, in November 1909. The previous year he had completed his Nimrod Expedition to Antarctica, which had resulted in a new Farthest South latitude record. He was garlanded with honours on his hero's return and embarked on an extensive lecture tour. Through a link with an Old Mancunian friend, Shackleton included MGS on his itinerary:
The Drawing-hall has witnessed many scenes of enthusiasm, but few can rival that on November 8th, when Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton (his Knighthood had not then been announced) was welcomed by Mother Owl. The gallant explorer, who was accompanied by Mr. Harry Nuttall, M.P., was introduced to the Masters and Governors, and, as time was scarce, the High Master spoke very briefly by way of preface.
Image from a Manchester Guardian article reporting on Shackleton's visit to MGS
Lieutenant Shackleton said that what he had just heard showed him that the boys had, at any rate, good lungs. It was very gratifying to feel the interest they took in exploration. With the exception of the South Polar regions, there was very little of the old world still left unknown. The North Pole had been attained, and Captain Scott, who deserved the support and encouragement of the whole country, was fitting out an expedition to the South Pole. But even were he to attain his goal, three or four million square miles would still remain to be explored; yet he was assured, that so long as a place remained to be found out men would spring up ready to dare the perils whatever they were. Lieutenant Shackleton then proceeded to give some details of his journey. He told us of the numerous hardships, the scarcity of food, the bitter cold, and the hairbreadth escapes of some of his companions from what seemed to be certain death. He never failed to emphasise the good fellowship of his comrades, and how much the success of the expedition was due to them. There were all sorts and conditions in the company, but they all worked together, because they realised that the journey was made for the country’s sake. He was not a good hand at preaching, but there was one important lesson he would like to point out. Whatever work there was to be done in the world, if it was to be made successfully, it would have to be carried out with the whole mind and energy. The more one tries, and the harder one tries, the better will be the result. Lieutenant Shackleton concluded by thanking his audience for the kind attention they had given him, and said he would always have a warm remembrance of the Grammar School of Manchester.
Mr. E. J. Broadfield, as Chairman of the Governors, rose to thank the lecturer. He spoke of the modesty of a man who would always be known as one of the heroes of the reign of Edward V II. Mr. Shackleton’s attitude, he said, in regard to himself and his men, was not too common in these days of exploration, especially in Arctic regions, a sally which was greeted with loud laughter. We have, besides an ineffaceable memory of a historic occasion, a portrait which Lieutenant Shackleton was kind enough to sign, to remind us of a red-letter day in our annals.
Sadly the portrait of Shackleton must be added to our list of lost or mislaid items. There are no photographs from either visit. Shackleton, as the Ulula article noted, was knighted in November 1910. He later led the famous expedition to Antarctica in which his ship Endurance, sank, leading to an astonishing escape by Shackleton and his men. Whilst for many decades, his reputation was overshadowed by that of his rival, by 2002, Shackleton was well-regarded enough to come 11th in the BBC's "100 Greatest Britons" poll.
Robert Falcon Scott visited in February 1910 to a rapturous reception from the boys and gave a talk outlining his plans for another expedition to try to reach the South Pole:
Captain Scott then rose, obviously gratified at the heartiness of his reception, and after a renewed outburst was enabled to begin. He found it very pleasant to be able to speak to boys, for it was the boys who would understand him best, and upon whom would devolve in future days the task of encouraging the spirit of adventure and enterprise. Everything was worth risking for the sake of science, and whole hearted support should be given to any attempt to explore the magnetic regions round and at the South Pole. This had to some extent been done ; but there still remained plenty of work : it lay between him and Commander Peary to put the finishing touches. Their rivalry was a perfectly amicable one, but the case was just as in a football game : you wished both sides the best of luck, yet secretly hoped your own side would win. Captain Scott proceeded to give a rough sketch of his plans ; how he would start in November from New Zealand with thirty dogs, twenty ponies, twenty-five men, and a number of motor sleighs ; how they would work, subject to the Antarctic conditions, till October o f the next year, when the real dash for the Pole would be made. They would probably return early in 1912. Captain Scott then gave us some experiences of his in ice-packed regions, and told how the glaring sun would turn his thoughts to the summer and sunshine of England, and the song of the skylark in his ears.
The plans described would come to fruition as the Terra Nova expedition. Scott would eventually attain his goal of reaching the South Pole, though ultimately beaten into second place by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson. The team would not come home in 1912 as Scott had expected, but died on their return journey from the Pole in March of that year.
Five years before the explorers visited, High Master Paton had started what would become a long tradition of trekking, camping and exploring with the first MGS trek in the Lake District. Have any Old Mancunians reached the South Pole?