25-30 September 1921

Sunday 25 September, 1921

1.00 am: RMS Aquitania transmits to shore “Exploration ship Quest just astern of Aquitania.” Shackleton wirelesses from Quest “All Well”

8.00 am: A telegram from Ernest Shackleton is transmitted from Quest to John Quiller Rowett via Land’s End: “All well. Cheerioh. Send you affectionate wishes. Goodbye old man. Ernest”

Shackleton also transmits the following message “A fair wind and all well. No private messages will be sent from now on to any friends or relations until further orders. We will listen in for messages between 9 and 11 (GMT) am and pm. Thank friends and strangers for hundreds of telegrams of good wishes. Impossible to reply individually. Greetings. Cheerio.”

Monday 26 September, 1921

The men are busy all day stowing gear and provisions.

Sir Ernest Shackleton sends by wireless from Quest:

“The Quest is crossing the Bay of Biscay with all sail set to a fine, fair wind on both sheets aft. Decks have been cleared up and ropes coiled down. Porpoises are playing round our bows in the tumbling, sunlit sea. All are looking forward. Cheerio.” (published in the Times, 27 September 1921)

The Times and The Daily Mail publish an article by Sir Ernest Shackleton:

“With regard to Polar exploration the question is often asked. ‘What is the good of it all?’… I will give one or two of the broad lines of Antarctic research which will show that there is an economic value for the world in Polar exploration. It has been estimated by competent authorities that the total cost of Arctic and Antarctic exploration for the last 100 years has been approximately two million pounds., while the value of the direct and indirect economic results accruing is set at twenty-five million pounds.” Shackleton goes on to illustrate this using the examples of accurate magnetic readings and improved meteorological forecasting that resulted from polar research.

Tuesday 27 September, 1921

Gerald Lysaght writes in his diary “Coal trimming had to be done today, and four hands were told off for the unpleasant job – Douglas, Wilkins, Eriksen and Hussey, who turned out in bathing suits. Mason took some pictures which should prove amusing.”

Coal trimmers (left to right) Wilkins, Eriksen, Douglas and Hussey, on Quest with The Boss – 27 September 1921

Shackleton writes in his diary: “How far away already we seem (to) have (left) ordinary life. I stopped the wireless operator from taking the news last night. It is of no importance to us in a world of our own.”

It is by now already apparent that Quest is only capable of 5 knots, not 8 as expected. The official expedition diary reads: “The wind came round to S.E. and freshened up during the day. The Quest is behaving badly in the short head seas. We have had to take in sail and are proceeding under steam, making poor progress. Bee Mason and Mooney are rather off colour.”

Wednesday 28 September, 1921

Quest’s engines have developed a noticeable knock and are stopped for adjustment. Kerr advises that the crankshaft is out of alignment.

Shackleton writes in his diary: “It is only by constant thought and care that the leader can lead. There is a delightful sense of freedom for responsibility in all others; and it should be so. These are just random thoughts, but borne in on one as all being so different from the long strain of preparation. It is a blessing that this time I have not had the financial worry or strain to add to the care of the active expedition. Lysaght is doing very well, and so is Scout Marr.”

This is the last diary entry Shackleton makes until 1 January 1922.

Thursday 29 September, 1921

Gerald Lysaght writes: “Sea moderate but wind freshening from the south, which has been stopping us a good deal. Making only 4 ½ knots. …Query does not like the water on deck and gets in The Boss’s bed at every opportunity. He is not a bad judge as the water is sometimes 18 inches deep on deck and nearly over the top of one’s seaboots.”

Friday 30 September, 1921

Against a moderate gale, Quest heaves to with engines at slow speed. As a result of Quest’s “lively motion”, Bee Mason and Scout Mooney are “hors de combat”. “The scout makes no complaint but it is obvious that life to him just now is a terrible misery”.

Meanwhile, at home, John Quiller Rowett writes from Ely Place to Hugh Robert Mill:

Dear Dr Mill,

I appreciate very much your having written to me so kindly on the subject of the Expedition.

I saw the Quest leave Plymouth Sound on Saturday and it was a sight that will always live in my memory.

Shackleton is a wonderful man and I have the greatest admiration for him not only as an explorer but as an organizer of this Expedition. It is most kind of you to ask my wife and myself to come over one afternoon before you return to London. My wife and I give ourselves this pleasure one day in the week after next if it is at all possible. I will send you a telegram however before coming to find if it is quite convenient for us to come.

I should value very much a copy of the notes on “Enderby Quadrant” which you wrote for Shackleton and it is very kind of you to suggest sending it to me. My wife joins me in kind messages to Mrs Mill.

Yours very sincerely,

John Quiller Rowett