The Quest Chronicle
In 1921, a converted Norwegian sealer, Quest, carried the legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton on what turned out to be his last expedition. How did this scheme come to be almost completely financed by John Quiller Rowett, the author’s grandfather, whose rum had supplied the Forces during WW1? Was this wise business on Rowett’s part, a generous gesture of friendship or well-intended philanthropy? Why did the book of the expedition, “Shackleton’s Last Voyage” published in 1923, name Shackleton’s trusty right-hand man, Frank Wild, as the author, when in fact it was written chiefly by the ship’s surgeon, Dr Alexander Macklin? Why did the “up and coming” Australian adventurer, George Hubert Wilkins, choose to go with Shackleton on the Quest, instead of joining the expedition of the Canadian explorer Stefansson or making polar flights with Amundsen?
And why did Wilkins not put his name to the account of his natural history work on the expedition? Shackleton’s Last Voyage did not tell the whole story. Then there are other puzzles to be resolved such as why the Quest’s seaplane – which would have been a polar first – never flew; and what really happened to Questie, the Daily Mail kitten and ship’s mascot.
The Quest expedition has long lain in the shadow of Shackleton’s other exploits. It is only fleetingly mentioned in the biographies of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Misconceptions and oversimplifications abound, such as with respect to the particular qualities of the ship, its preparation and equipment, and the plans and aims of the expedition. This account sets out the events that occurred before, during and after the voyage, told through the words of the protagonists with their letters, logs and diaries, many of which have not been previously published.