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Picture Library catalogue: Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22

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Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22

Originally Shackleton had planned to lead an expedition northwards into the Arctic; however, with the withdrawal of funding from the Canadian government, Shackleton was forced to rethink his plans. He instead turned his thoughts southwards for one last time and with funding from his friend John Rowett made plans for another trip to the Antarctic region.

The main motivation was to collect scientific data in Antarctic and sub-Antarctic areas. In doing this they would circumnavigate the Antarctic continent and sail along previously unvisited stretches of the Antarctic. Shackleton wanted to explore many of the little known islands of the Southern Ocean and confirm or disprove the reports of land. The scientific work was to include taking meteorological examinations, magnetic observations, zoological studies, geological surveys, hydrographical and oceanographical work as well as the charting of little-known islands. Photography was made a key feature in this expedition and much photographic equipment was taken. A competition was held through the Daily Mail to find a boy scout to work as the ship’s boy on the journey; the competition was so fierce that Shackleton would choose two boys to accompany them, although one boy would be forced to return home due to severe seasickness.

They set sail on 17 September 1921 on board the Quest. On the journey southwards they had numerous problems with ship’s engines. At Rio de Janeiro the expedition lost a month as repairs were undertaken to the engines. Whilst in Rio de Janeiro Shackleton suffered a heart attack but would not let Macklin, the ships doctor, examine him. This delay resulted in Shackleton changing his plans and sailing directly to South Georgia. As Quest arrived in South Georgia on 4 January 1922, Shackleton looked through binoculars towards the coast where he and his companions in 1916 had traversed the inhospitable terrain to raise the alarm concerning the fate of his crew from the Endurance.

At 2am on January 5 1922 Shackleton called for his physician. He asked for sleeping pills, complaining that he was in pain and the aspirin he had taken was not working. The physician warned him that he needed to take things more easy and stop working so hard. Shackleton replied with the words “You are always wanting me to give up something. What do you want me to give up now?” These were Shackleton’s last words. Shortly afterwards he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was only 48.

At first Shackleton’s body was sent to Monte Video to be returned to England. However, when Lady Shackleton heard the news of her husband’s death she asked that his body be returned to South Georgia where she thought he would have wanted to be. He was buried in the whalers’ graveyard on South Georgia at Grytviken, overlooking the stormy sea.

Meanwhile the command of the expedition passed onto Wild. They headed southwards through the Weddell Sea to Elephant and Clarence Islands and then back up to South Georgia where they erected a cairn in Shackleton’s memory and visited his grave. From here they went to Tristan da Cunha, where they carried out a number of depth soundings. They met with the islanders, giving them supplies and the ships doctor providing medical assistance. From here they travelled to Gough Island where they scaled its highest point and undertook a survey. On 3 June they set off for Cape Town arriving into Table Bay on Sunday 18 June. Leaving here they sailed onto St. Helena and to St. Vincent to gather more scientific results to compare to their other scientific gatherings.

On 16 September 1922 they entered into Plymouth Sound bringing massive amounts of scientific data with them including valuable deep-sea soundings. In addition the expedition had proved the non-existence of New South Greenland. This expedition is best remembered for it being the one Shackleton died upon, although scientifically the expedition was a big success.

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Data in this catalogue was last updated on Tuesday, 13th June 2023.