British Explorer, Author and Labour Politician
Born 1911 Died 1994

Edward Shackleton was an explorer who took part in expeditions to both Sarawak and Ellesmere Island, was a Labour Member of Parliament between 1946 and 1955, and subsequently as the Baron Shackleton served in Harold Wilson's government of 1964 to 1970. He would however be best remembered as the author of the Shackleton Reports of 1976 and 1982 on the economic development of the Falkland Islands.

Early Life and Career

Born on the 15th July 1911, Edward Arthur Alexander Shackleton was the youngest of the three children of the Antarctic explorer, Ernest Henry Shackleton and his wife, Emily Mary Dorman. However Edward saw little of his father before his death at Grytviken on South Georgia on the 4th January 1922, and was largely raised by his mother and grandmother. He was educated at Radley College and then at Magdalen College, Oxford where he became the organiser and surveyor for the 1932-1933 Oxford expedition to Sarawak and achieved the first known ascent of Mount Mulu in Borneo. He was similarly the organiser and surveyor for the 1934–1935 Oxford expedition to Ellesmere Island which was led by G. N. Humphreys, and later wrote accounts of both expeditions in Arctic Journeys: The Story of the Oxford University Ellesmere Land Expedition (1937) and Borneo Jungle: An Account of the Oxford Expedition to Sarawak (1938). He then toured both Europe and the United States lecturing on his travels, before he joined the BBC and worked as a talks producer on behalf of the Ministry of Information in the German service, but was sacked after various arguments.

In 1940 he joined the Royal Air Force and became the Station Intelligence Officer at St Eval, before he joined the RAF's Coastal Command as an intelligence officer and anti-U-boat planner working as part of Naval and Military Intelligence for the Air Ministry. He reached the rank of Wing Commander and was twice mentioned in dispatches and was awarded a military OBE in 1945, although he believed that he should have received the Distinguished Flying Cross and complained of the "snobbery that operated in high places against Coastal Command".

Political Career

Whilst Edward had been the treasurer of the Oxford University Conservative Association, he later joined the Labour Party shortly before the war, and with the conclusion of hostilities decided to go into politics. He stood as the unsuccessful Labour candidate at Epsom and Ewell in the General Election of June 1945, and was equally unsuccessful at the Bournemouth by-election in November 1945 where he was defeated by the Conservative Brendan Bracken, despite campaigning on the slogan 'With Shackleton to the poll'. However he soon afterwards secured the nomination for Preston and went on to defeat Harmar Nicholls in another by-election in January 1946.

Edward later became Parliamentary Private Secretary to George Strauss, the Minister of Supply (1949-1950) and then for Herbert Morrison, Lord President of the Council (1950-51). During this time his constituency of Preston was divided into two, and Edward plumped for the marginally better prospect of Preston South. He narrowly held on to his seat by 149 votes in 1950 and 16 in 1951, but was eventually defeated in a straight fight with the Conservative Alan Green at the General Election of 1955. Now unemployed he became a director of the John Lewis Partnership and wrote a biography of his hero Fridtjof Nansen, Nansen the Explorer whic appeared in 1959.

His political career was not however at an end as he was included in the Labour Party's very first list of life peers created in 1958 and took his seat in the House of Lords as the Baron Shackleton. With the election of a Labour government in 1964 he became the Minister of Defence for the Royal Air Force from 1964 to 1967 and was part of a mission to Saudi Arabia in 1967. He then served as a Minister Without Portfolio and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords in 1967-1968. He was appointed Lord Privy Seal in January 1968, but gave up that office in April when he became Leader of the House of Lords and Paymaster-General, only to exchange the office of Paymaster-General for that of Lord Privy Seal once more in October. In the following month he was given the additional responsibility of Minister in charge of the Civil Service Department, and retained those offices until Labour's defeat at the General Election of June 1970.

After Government

Edward thereafter continued as the leader of the opposition in the House of Lords until 1974, but when the Labour Party returned to power in that year he decided against a return to full-time politics. He had rejoined the John Lewis board in 1973 as the Director of Personnel and Administration, and had also become a director of Rio Tinto Zinc and was their deputy chairman between 1975 and 1982. However although his business career persuaded him not to seek public office, he continued to be available to perform the odd public duty from time to time.

In October 1975 the British Government announced that he was to lead a mission to investigate the economic potential of the Falkland Islands. The Shackleton Report which eventually appeared in two volumes in July 1977, noted that the majority of the islanders wanted to remain British, and made a number of recommendations regarding the expansion of the islands' fisheries and the exploitation of its gas and oil resources, as well as arguing the need for an adequate airport and the retention of the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance. The Report was largely ignored at the time; had it not been it is possible that the Falklands War might have been avoided, as it was Margaret Thatcher later commissioned him to produced a second Shackleton Report in 1982 which, although simply a desk study update of the first report, became the blueprint for the Islands' subsequent economic development. It was as a result of this contribution to the Islands' future that he was later granted the Freedom of Stanley in 1988.

Edward also conducted a review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in 1978 (which he broadly endorsed), was president of the Parliamentary Scientific Committee (1976-1980) and a member of the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, (1976-1992) and even achieved some fleeting public prominence in 1993 when he complained that the Conservative government had been handing out titles in return for donations to party funds. He was additionally a member of the council of the Industrial Society (1963-1983), president of the Royal Geographical Society (1971-1974), chairman of the East European Trade Council (1977-1986) and later honorary president (1986-1994), and for many years the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, and gave his name to the Shackleton Building, which currently houses the departments of Geography and Psychology. He received the Cuthbert Peek Award in 1933, the Ludwig Medal awarded by the Munich Geographical Society in 1938 and the Special Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1990.

Edward Shackleton was married to Betty Muriel Marguerite, the daughter of Captain Charles Homan. Together they had two children, a son Charles Edward Ernest Shackleton and a daughter Alexandra Shackleton.


  • Andrew Roth, ‘Shackleton, Edward Arthur Alexander, Baron Shackleton (1911–1994)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008
  • Shackleton; Lord; Edward Arthur Alexander (1911-1994)'314'&dsqCmd=Show.tcl
  • Papers of Arthur Edward Alexander Shackleton, Baron Shackleton (1911-1994) MP'S'&dsqCmd=Show.tcl
  • A Brief History Of The Falkland Islands
  • The Shackleton Scholarship Fund

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.