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Royal Canadian Geographical Society Finds Wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Quest
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Shackelton RCGS

The Shackleton Quest Expedition, led by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), has discovered the historic wreck of Quest, lying at a depth of 390m off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. The schooner-rigged vessel served as Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last expedition ship on the Shackleton-Rowett expedition of 1921/2. He died on board on January 5, 1922, aged 47.

The discovery of the shipwreck, in the 150th year after Shackleton’s birth, took place five days into the expedition in the North West Atlantic using sonar equipment operated by experts from Memorial University’s Marine Institute, a leader in ocean research.

Expedition Leader John Geiger headed an international team of experts, including Search Director, the world-renowned shipwreck hunter David Mearns. Participants were drawn from Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States and included oceanographers, historians and divers.

“Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” said Expedition Leader John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. “Shackleton was known for his courage and brilliance as a leader in crisis. The tragic irony is that his was the only death to take place on any of the ships under his direct command.”

Search Director David Mearns said the discovery was the result of painstaking work by the team which included Antoine Normandin as his assistant and lead researcher. They researched historic logs and maps, and cross referenced the historical data with modern technology to determine where the ship may have been located based on currents, weather conditions and other factors.

“ I can definitively confirm that we have found the wreck of the Quest. She is intact. Data from high resolution side scan sonar imagery corresponds exactly with the known dimensions and structural features of this special ship. It is also consistent with events at the time of the sinking,’ said Mearns.

Shackleton, the Anglo-Irish explorer, died aboard Quest in 1922 off the island of South Georgia in the South Atlantic, on his fourth journey to the Antarctic. Just seven years before, he had captured the attention of the world when he enabled the survival of all 27 members of his crew after their ship, the Endurance, was trapped and sunk by sea ice during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Shackelton Sonar

The discovery of Quest represents the last major part of the jigsaw in assembling Shackleton’s physical legacy. His granddaughter, and expedition co-patron, Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, said it was her “dream” to find Quest. Now, that dream has been realized fittingly in the year marking the 150th anniversary of Shackleton’s birth.

Joining Alexandra Shackleton as co-patron of the expedition was Traditional Chief Mi’sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation.

“Quest sank in the waters off of Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit territories in 1962, while on a sealing expedition. I am so happy that Quest was found, but sad due to health reasons I couldn’t be on the ship when it was found,” said Chief Joe. “I was happy to share local knowledge with the captain and crew of the search vessel ahead of time to find Quest and honoured that Miawpukek Horizon Marine assisted in planning the expedition. Thanks to all that participated in the search. Job well done. The words that come to mind are NEVER SAY NEVER.  Having our presence and involvement in this expedition demonstrates the respect that RCGS has for our peoples and our territories.”

Ms. Shackleton pointed out that, “My grandfather, Sir Ernest Shackleton, had purchased Quest with the intention of leading a Canadian Arctic expedition. It is perhaps fitting that the ship should have ended its storied service in Canadian waters. I have long hoped for this day and am grateful to those who made this incredible discovery.”

The expedition team included Jan Chojecki, grandson of John Quiller Rowett,  the man who financed Shackleton’s final journey to the Antarctic. Also on board was Norwegian Tore Topp whose family owned Quest from 1923 to 1962.

“Quest was built in Norway, and after Shackleton’s death, the ship reverted to Norwegian ownership. It continued to make history long after Shackleton, including exploratory work and dramatic rescue missions in the high Arctic. Its work as a sealer was also often high stakes,” said Geir Klover, Director of the Fram Museum.

Martin Brooks, CEO of British expedition and apparel company Shackleton, added: “The finding of Quest is an important new chapter in the story of Ernest Shackleton and polar history;  an iconic vessel, she marked the end of the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration. It is an honour to have supported this historic discovery.”

Dr. Paul Brett, Vice President of the Marine Institute at Memorial University, and a partner in the expedition said when the Royal Canadian Geographical Society asked for assistance, “our immediate answer was yes. This has been an exciting project to work on. It’s not often you make history.”

“As President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society Board of Governors, I would like to extend my congratulations to the 2024 Shackleton Quest Expedition for their outstanding demonstration of teamwork and resilience in locating the wreck of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s last ship. This is an important discovery not only for Canadians but for people all around the world who have been inspired by Shackleton’s example of humanity and endurance. Well done!”