The beginning

While teenagers at school at Dulwich College in the 1890’s, Ernest Shackleton meets John Quiller Rowett. Although not in the same year, they walk the same route to school and exchange notes on homework.

In 1911, John Rowett provides Shackleton with space at his London offices at 19 Eastcheap. By this time Rowett is owner of a successful wine and spirits business, Rowett, Leakey and Co Ltd, that goes on to supply rum to the services during WW1.

John Quiller Rowett, about 1911

1920

During 1920 Shackleton decides to escape his life in England, and the grind of giving often twice-daily lectures about the Endurance expedition, to embark on another polar expedition.  He plans to go North, targeting summer 1921, for various reasons. Amundsen has concluded an expedition there in July 1920 and it seems unlikely he will be going back in the immediate future.  The Canadian explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson is also planning to go North – to explore the Beaufort Sea.  Stefansson had been in the Canadian Arctic while Shackleton was on the Endurance expedition but had lost eleven men (including two veterans of the Nimrod Expedition – James Murray and Alistair Forbes Mackay) and he had opponents in Canada.  Stefansson’s plans to go North are connected to Canadian land title claims so when Shackleton begins to talk about plans to go North, he is viewed as a potential alternative to Stefansson.

Shackleton and Rowett are in contact during 1920 about the new plans. Rowett pledges some financial support for the expedition, on the understanding that the main contribution will come from the Canadian government.  In addition, paper industrialist Frederick Becker commits £5,000. Once again, Rowett provides Shackleton with office space at 19 Eastcheap from which to plan the expedition. In August, the James Caird (by then hugely famous from Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic – Endurance – Expedition) is removed from the roof of Selfridges, where it has been on display, and is taken into John Rowett’s safekeeping at Ely Place, his country home in Frant, Sussex (he later entrusts it to Dulwich College). 

John Rowett’s children in the James Caird at Ely Place, Frant

November 1920

Ernest Shackleton gives John Quiller Rowett a copy of British Antarctic Expedition Geology Volumes I and II, inscribed:

To John Quiller Rowett from his friend Ernest Shackleton Nov 1920 –  
Dawn lands for Youth to reap,
Dim lands where the Empires sleep,
And all that dolphined deep,
Where the ships swing.

This is an adaptation from James Elroy Flecker’s poem God Save the King.