22-26 November 1921, Rio

Tuesday 22 November, 1921

After a beautiful sunrise, Quest arrives at Rio de Janeiro. Engineers from Messrs Wilson, Sons &Co come aboard to inspect the vessel. Most of the crew are billeted on shore.

Douglas and Wilkins transfer directly to the mail steamer Orcoma to travel to Montevideo and then on to South Georgia. They carry with them letters from Shackleton giving authority to their expenses in South Georgia:

Rio de Janeiro, 22nd November, 1922

R.Y.S. Quest

Shackleton-Rowett Expedition

This letter is my authority for Major Douglas and Captain Wilkins, the geologist and naturalist respectively of the above Expedition to make any necessary expenditure on my behalf in the course of their work on South Georgia.

I will be much obliged if the various Managers of the whaling stations could afford whatever assistance lies in their power to give these officers facilities in the way of transport, food, equipment and manual help, debiting me with the costs of the same.

On my arrival in South Georgia, about the end of December, I shall discharge any liabilities incurred. I have lively recollections of the many kindnesses and the great assistance I have on former occasions received from the Manager of the whaling station whilst I was engaged in a similar work, i.e. investigating the natural phenomena of the Island in the interest of science.

Signed : E H Shackleton

Wednesday 23 November, 1921

Sir John Tilley, British Ambassador, visits the Quest accompanied by the Brazil Minister for Marine and other Navy officials.

Shackleton hosts the visit of Sir John Tilley, British Ambassador

Quest is then moved to Wilson’s yards and work commences. As well as repairing the crankshaft and engines, a new, smaller propeller (2 blades instead of 4) is to be fitted. The top mast needs renewing. The living accommodation will be restructured and the deckhouse extended. Most crucially, it is found that the reason for the crankshaft being out of alignment in the first place is that the keel had become “buckled like a snake” when the timbers swelled on re-entering the water having spent months in dry dock in Southampton. In addition to rectifying this, the hull will be recaulked and tarred.

Quest in Guanabara Bay, off the Caju district of Rio de Janeiro, near Wilson and Sons Yards

Thursday 24 November, 1921

Shackleton and Worsley attend a reception at the Naval Club in Rio.

The harpoonist Eriksen leaves the expedition after being dismissed by Shackleton. Meanwhile, S S Young and H J “Jimmy” Argles join as stokers and coal-trimmers. The new recruits are required to carry out heavier ship’s duties and free the scientists’ time for research. Young is South African and Argles is Canadian, a former Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.

S S Young (L) and H J “Jimmy” Argles (R), join at Rio

Friday 25 November,1921

On the SS Orcoma, bound for Montevideo, Wilkins writes to John Quiller Rowett:

Dear Mr Rowett
I have been requested by Sir Ernest Shackleton to forward you a copy of the preliminary reports attached. You may find them of interest together with the copies of the photographs already taken and which should be dispatched to you from Rio de Janeiro.
Wishing Mrs Rowett and yourself the best of the Season’s greetings,
I am, yours sincerely
GH Wilkins

Wilkins also writes, on Shackleton-Rowett Expedition notepaper, to the Director of the British Museum of Natural History (Natural History Museum) London:
Three boxes of specimens referred to in the attached preliminary report, have been dispatched to you from Rio de Janeiro at the request of Sir Ernest Shackleton. It is expected that these may be at the disposal of the museum until the return of the above expedition, and then after a type specimen has been selected for the sole use of the British Museum, some at least of the others may be distributed to other museums which may be named at some later date.
I am, yours truly
G H Wilkins
Naturalist, Shackleton-Rowett Expedition

To both letters Wilkins attaches the mentioned Preliminary Report, covering the period of the expedition from Plymouth to Rio. (1) Ornithological Report: Over 6 pages, he mentions the large numbers of exhausted birds that approached the Quest in the rough weather in the Bay of Biscay, and describes other birds observed along the route as well as aspects of their behaviour. Eggs and other specimens were collected, photographs taken. Relevant extracts from the ship’s log are included over a further 4 pages. (2) Marine Biology Report – 4 page report. Three water samples taken for plankton analysis. Various fish and marine mammals observed including the dolphin landed on 4 November. (3) Entomology Report over 3 pages describing extensive sample collection on Madeira and St Vincent, and event 40 specimens representing 6 species on St Paul’s Rocks. (4) Itemised list of 48 cine clips recorded and 82 still photographs in the material sent back to England from Rio.

At the same time, Wilkins also writes to the British Museum (Natural History) ornithologist Percy Roycroft Lowe OBE BA:

Dear Lowe
You may be surprised at the address but the geologist and myself are preceding the Quest to South Georgia and hope to get a boat from Montevideo to that place, leaving Montevideo on Sunday next. This should give us at least a month’s uninterrupted work on the island, but if we do not succeed in breaking new ground on the South and West coast I am afraid we will not find anything more than the numerous trained observers that have already visited the other districts.
It is seldom that I comment on the quality of the work that I send in, for I expect people to believe that I have done my best under the conditions and in all circumstances, but I feel that he parcel of specimens that I dispatched to you from Rio are so far from satisfactory that it needs some explanation and the assurance that all those sent in will not be in the same condition.
You probably know that the photographer was sent home from Madeira and because there is none other on the boat with sufficient camera experience, it now falls to my lot to do all the photography. It was also decided that it would not be possible to excuse me from deck duties, so now my job includes, besides collecting, photography, typist and clerk to the “Boss”, cook’s help one day in three, four hours’ watch at times and at others four on and eight off with frequent shouts of “all hands on deck to set sail” or vice versa. Besides this, every five days there is four to five hours work in the coal hold shoveling coal to fill the bunkers.
I tried to do the maximum amount of my own work as well as the other and had the help of one other with little experience for a little while, but it resulted in a horrible mess in all departments, so in the future I must of necessity neglect some of the branches and do what I can more thoroughly. I do not intend to give up the bird work.
I think you will find the skeletons useful although rather “smelly” and the skins ragged. The next lot I shall send should be better for I shall be putting them up in cooler weather and will have wrappers on them.
The changing of our route and plans has been rather disappointing for it means we may not get very long on Gough Island or the Antarctic Continent.
The Quest is so slow and restless on the water that it is difficult to prepare specimens of any kind or in any way and absolutely impossible to make good drawings or proper colour notes at sea but I hope to have sufficient data to build up reports when I get home.
Wishing you the season’s greetings,
I am, yours sincerely
G H Wilkins

Saturday 26 November, 1921

7.00 am: Douglas and Wilkins arrive in Montevideo on board the Orcoma.

In Rio, Lady Tilley, wife of the British Ambassador to Rio de Janeiro, hosts a garden party for members of the expedition and the British Colony of Rio