The ‘Quest,’ Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Last Ship, Has Been Found Off Eastern Canada

The ship was employed on the polar explorer’s last Antarctic voyage before his untimely death.
Sir Ernest Shackleton stands on the deck of the ‘Quest’ before it left for Antarctica.
Sir Ernest Shackleton stands on the deck of the ‘Quest’ before it left for Antarctica. / Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

A team from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society has announced that its discovery of the wreck of the Quest, the schooner-rigged steamship on which the famed Anglo-Irish polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton carried out his final, uncompleted expedition.

The shipwreckdubbed the last link to the “heroic age of Antarctic exploration” by researcher and society CEO John Geiger—was located by the society’s research vessel, the Leeway Odyssey, about 1300 feet below sea level off the coast of Labrador in Canada. The old ship had been nipped by sea ice and sunk while on a seal hunting voyage in 1962. 

“Finding Quest is one of the final chapters in the extraordinary story of Sir Ernest Shackleton,” Geiger told The Guardian

South with Shackleton

Driven to exploration by a childhood love for adventure stories, Shackleton’s first expedition to Antarctica took place in 1901, accompanying British naval officer and explorer Robert Falcon Scott. He was forced to return to Europe due to a severe case of scurvy before acquiring much glory. But Shackleton would go on to lead three more Antarctic expeditions, the most famous of which ended in disaster.

The ship ‘Quest’ in the River Thames.
The ‘Quest’ in the River Thames. / Print Collector/Getty Images

The explorer had brushed shoulders with death on the continent in 1914, when an attempt to traverse Antarctica on foot ended with his ship, the Endurance, spending several months trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea before sinking. That Shackleton was able to keep his men alive and sane as they drifted helplessly on an ice floe, and then sail across 800 miles of the world’s most treacherous ocean in an open whaling boat in search of rescue, has become a legend in exploration circles. (The wreck of the Endurance was found—nearly intact at a depth of almost 10,000 feet—in 2022.)

Despite those events, eight of Shackleton’s Endurance crew members chose to accompany their captain on his final voyage to Antarctica in the Quest. Although the ship was equipped with modern technology—including wireless radio, electric lights, and a heated crow’s nest—the vessel’s small size made it unfit for polar exploration. Sadly, Shackleton died of a heart attack while the Quest was stopped at South Georgia Island, north of Antarctica, and never completed his final mission. 

Surfacing the Quest

After Shackleton’s passing, the expedition was abandoned and the Quest ended up changing owners several times; it eventually fell into the hands of Norwegian sealers.

That’s how it ended up on the seafloor 15 nautical miles off the cost of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and about 7500 miles from the harbor of Grytviken, South Georgia, where Shackleton had last stood at its helm. 

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