16-18 December 1921 – Rio & South Georgia

Friday 16 December, 1921

Gerald Lysaght, “the General” to the Quest crew, is back in England after leaving the expedition at St Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands on 28 October. Today he arrives at Ely Place to spend the weekend with the Rowetts. In Rio de Janeiro, Shackleton swelters as final repairs are done to Quest.

Saturday 17 December, 1921

Shackleton spends a stiflingly hot day aboard Quest, working on the accounts, writing letters home and drafting messages for the press in England. He writes to John Rowett:

110 in the shade! All the work is done and we are going. The next you hear will be, please God, success. Should anything happen in the ice it will have nothing to do with anything wrong with the ship. The ship is alright. ‘Never for me the lowered banner, Never the lost Endeavour‘,
Your friend, Ernest

He also writes to his wife Emily and to Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills, in each case expressing similar sentiments of his tiredness and debilitation by the oppressive heat, and his worries for the expedition. He says to Janet Stancomb-Wills “We are tucked away about 9 miles from Rio on an island, baking hot, with mosquitoes and clanging hammers all day. Then at night I have to dress and attend some long drawn out function and all the time I am made to get away. If I knew you less well I would not write all this but I want to open up; from South Georgia we go into the ice into the life that is mine and I do pray that we will make good; it will be my last time…

Quest finally leaves Wilson’s yards and anchors near the city side of the harbour to reload equipment and take on stores.

On South Georgia, Wilkins abandons attempts to make camp on Bird Island and pitches instead at Elsa Bay (Elsehul) on the northeast corner of the island, across a col from Undine Harbour.

Sunday 18 December, 1921

In the morning, while Quest is still being loaded, Macklin is summoned ashore to attend to Shackleton where he is staying at the Leopoldina Chacara, the “officers’ residence” of the Leopoldina railway company. This is situated in the Icarai-Niteroi area, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro and not far from the Yacht Club where others are billeted [a century later it is the Architecture and Urbanism School of the Fluminense Federal University]. Upon arrival, Shackleton tells Macklin he had only felt a slight faintness and is now fully recovered, and that he had only called for Macklin in order to check with him about the completion of Quest’s stores.

Leopoldina Chacara

At 4pm, Quest leaves Rio de Janeiro, heading straight for South Georgia. The expedition now has suffered six weeks of delays and is missing key polar equipment, and of course the seaplane which was to have been a key asset.