Quest, Shackleton’s Final Expedition

On 4 January 1922, the Quest came within view of South Georgia. ‘Like a pair of excitable kids’, said Worsley, he and Shackleton ‘were rushing around showing everyone where we first came over the mountains on our 1916 tramp across S.G. from King Haakon (Bay) to Stromness Bay after our boat journey from Elephant Island. Finally the ‘Boss’ called me when I was on the bridge to come & show some of the others a point he wasn’t quite sure of, but I couldn’t leave here at the time & came down later, but the dear old ‘Boss’ was quite prepared for me to let the ship wander along on her own’. The Quest anchored outside the whaling station of Grytviken; it had been eight years since Shackleton had sailed up the same fjord in Endurance on his way to the Weddell Sea. Surprisingly, many of the same old faces were there. Fridthjof Jacobsen was still station manager. He came out in a boat and took Shackleton ashore. Macklin was not surprised when in the early hours he was called to Shackleton and found him in the midst of another heart attack. Macklin, as many times before, told him he would have to change his style of life. Macklin said that Shackleton replied, ‘You’re always wanting me to give up things. What is it I ought to give up?’

A few minutes later, in the wee hours of 5 January 1922, Shackleton was dead.

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Shackleton’s body was originally to be sent back to England for burial. With it went Hussey, who had no heart for the expedition now that his leader was dead. When Emily heard what had happened, she decided that her husband should be buried on South Georgia. His spirit had no place in England…if he had a home on earth, it must be among the mystic crags and glaciers of the island in the Southern Ocean which had meant so much to him.

Hussey reached Montevideo where Shackleton’s body was given a remarkable reception by the people of Uruguay. The President issued a special decree:

‘Sir Ernest Shackleton synthesised every splendid quality; courage, always quiet and modest; limitless abnegation; fine tenacity … all applied to the conquest of universal science, with a life-long devotion… In an age of war-like heroism, he was the hero, calm and strong, who, who left behind him neither death nor grief.’

Then on 15 February 1922 – the 48th anniversary of his birth – with state ceremonial, the body was conveyed through the streets of Montevideo and placed on the British whaler Woodville, which took Shackleton, accompanied once more by Hussey, on his last voyage south.

The burial took place on 1 March at Grytviken, South Georgia, ‘the gate of the Antarctic.’  Shackleton was laid to rest in the Norwegian cemetery, along with the whalers amongst whom he had felt at home. The original cross was replaced in 1928 by a formal granite headstone bearing this simple inscription:

Ernest Henry Shackleton
Born 15th February 1874
Entered Life Eternal
5th January 1922

On the headland above the little whaling town a large cross has since been erected in his memory.

On 2 March 1922 a memorial service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral, attended by representatives of the King, the Dowager Queen Alexandra, Shackleton’s family and the Alleyn Club (the organisation for old boys of Shackleton’s former school, Dulwich College).

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