The Shackleton-Rowett Expedition (1921-22) was the last to be led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. It was sponsored by Mr John Quiller Rowett and ultimately was led by Captain [Commander] Frank Wild. The three were photographed in 1921 looking out from the bridge of the Quest when they paid a visit to Southampton to supervise the fitting out of the ship prior to the expedition. The 45p stamps are based on this photograph in an unusual Triptych format.
The expedition proposed an ambitious two year programme of Antarctic exploration but before any work had begun Shackleton tragically died aboard ship on 5th January. The Quest had only just arrived at South Georgia and on 4th January anchored off Grytviken, where Shackleton went ashore to visit the old whaling establishment once again. Returning to Quest he retired to his cabin to write what was to be the final entry in his diary. “It is a strange and curious place” he wrote. “A wonderful evening. In the darkening twilight I saw a lone star hover: gem like above the bay”.
The expedition had numerous objectives including a circumnavigation of the Antarctic continent and the mapping of 2,000 miles of uncharted coastline, a search for wrongly charted sub-Antarctic islands and investigations into the possible mineral resources in these lands and an ambitious scientific research programme. It was unrealistic for so few men to achieve all of these objectives within two years. There was no single main goal other than perhaps Shackleton’s wish to return south once more.
Shackleton himself referred to the expedition as pioneering. There was an aircraft (that ultimately was not used) and all manner of new gadgets including a heated crow’s nest and overalls for the lookouts, a wireless set, an odograph that could trace and chart the ship’s route automatically, a deep-sea sounding machine and a great deal of photographic equipment.
Such gadgets were made possible by the sponsorship of the businessman John Quiller Rowett. Having made a fortune in the spirits industry Rowett had a desire to do more than simply make money. Following the First World War he was a notable contributor to several charitable causes. He was also a school-friend of Shackleton’s at Dulwich College and he undertook to cover the entire costs of the expedition. According to Wild, without Rowett's generosity the expedition would have been impossible: "His generous attitude is the more remarkable in that he knew there was no prospect of financial return, and what he did was in the interest of scientific research and from friendship with Shackleton." His only recognition was the attachment of his name to the title of the expedition. Sadly in 1924, aged 50, Rowett took his own life believing his business fortunes to be in decline.
After the death of Shackleton, Frank Wild took over as expedition leader and chose to proceed in accordance with Shackleton’s plans. The Quest, shown on the 50p stamps leaving London, at Ascension and in Ice, was the smallest ship to ever attempt to penetrate the Antarctic ice and despite several attempts the most southerly latitude attained was 69°17's. The ship returned to South Georgia at the onset of winter. Quest remained in South Georgia for a month, during which time Shackleton's old comrades erected a memorial cairn to their former leader, on a headland overlooking the entrance to Grytviken harbour.
Quest finally sailed for South Africa on 8th May where the crew enjoyed the hospitality of the Prime Minister, Jan Smuts, and many local organisations. They also met Rowett’s agent with a message that they should return to England rather than continuing for a second year. Their final visits were to St Helena, Ascension Island and St Vincent.
In the end the expedition achieved little of real significance. The lack of a clearly defined objective combined with the failure to call at Cape Town on the way south to collect important equipment (including parts for the aeroplane) added to the serious blow of Shackleton’s death, which ultimately overshadowed the expedition’s achievements.
The expedition has been referred to as the final expedition of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Those that followed were of a different nature and belonged to the mechanical age.
Designer: Andrew Robinson
Printer: Cartor Security Printing
Stamp size: 36mm x 36mm & 18mm x 36mm
Perforation: 13 ¼ per 2cms
Layout: 12 with pictorial selvedge (in Triptych format)
Release date: 17 September, 2012
Production Co-ordination: Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd