The James Caird Society website is dedicated to the memory of Harding McGregor Dunnett (1909-2000), author of Shackleton’s Boat: the story of the James Caird, and the Society’s Founder, first Chairman and prime mover. Born just two months after Ernest Shackleton achieved his Furthest South on the Nimrod Expedition, and a schoolboy at Dulwich College when the James Caird was first presented to the College by John Quiller Rowett, Harding will be long and gratefully remembered for his roaring laughter, his relentless devotion to the advancement of Shackleton’s name and reputation and his vociferous published correspondence with national newspapers promoting the Shackleton cause.
Members of the James Caird Society and Shackleton fans on both sides of the Atlantic and both North and South will remember the unalloyed kindness and enthusiasm with which Harding, whose enthusiasm for Shackleton was unquenchable, recruited countless new members at home and abroad. He kept in touch with many of them personally, ensuring they were informed, eagerly debriefing them of Shackleton news and details, and taking immense pains in dealing rapidly and efficiently with every possible enquiry, idea or request for Shackleton information.
Harding Dunnett was born on 20 March 1909, two months after Shackleton, Wild, Adams and Marshall achieved their ‘Furthest South’ (9 Jan 1909).
While Harding was a day-boy at Dulwich College in 1924, the James Caird was presented to the school by John Quiller Rowett, also an Old Alleynian and sponsor of Shackleton’s final Quest Expedition. The James Caird’s arrival, just two years after the explorer’s death, had a marked impact on the young Dunnett; but he found it shocking that the College put Shackleton’s famous boat in a cramped, barred external enclosure or undercroft, and did not display it properly or honour it. Years later, its enclosure collapsed by wartime bombing, it was to be seen in the late 60s ‘lying forlorn and derelict, a repository for old toffee-papers, in the College grounds, with the sledges, mast and oars split beyond restoration’ (Sheila Hodges, ‘God’s Gift: a Living History of Dulwich College (1981), p. 82, possibly quoting the Master from 1967, Charles Lloyd).
In retirement, Harding renewed his connection with Dulwich College and introduced himself to Margaret Slythe, then the College Head of Library and Archivist. The pair became staunch allies and together they planned for the return of the James Caird to Dulwich from storage at the National Maritime Museum (following its splendid restoration), and for the boat’s proper display. In 1989, Harding and Margaret escorted the boat back from Greenwich to Dulwich, hooting triumphantly.
Harding next devoted to writing a book and producing, with Dulwich College staff member John Bardell, a video (now a DVD, available from the Society), both entitled Shackleton’s Boat: The Story of the James Caird. Then at the start of 1994, it was arranged that the James Caird should be exhibited at the International Boat Show at Earl’s Court, London. Harding manned the stand all week together with Alexandra Shackleton and members of his family, including Pippa Hare and Cmdr. John McGregor. The boat attracted enormous interest, and this event led directly to the formation of the James Caird Society.
Harding’s Shackleton enthusiasm remained undiminished. He made a trip to South Georgia in 1998, and another to New York on behalf of the Society in 1999, both in his late eighties – although sadly he never got to Antarctica itself. When he returned from his visit to South Georgia, he gave a highly amusing and informative talk to the Society.
Harding Dunnett worked assiduously to promote and further Shackleton’s reputation as ‘the greatest leader on God’s earth, bar none.’ He continued to chair the James Caird Society Committee and answer Shackleton questions from countless correspondents until his death in April 2000, aged 91.