Fram Museum Oslo

BREAKING: Shackleton’s last ship, the Norwegian sealing vessel Quest discovered in the Labrador Sea

The Shackleton Quest Expedition organized by Royal Canadian Geographical Society with support from the Fram Museum has located the ship, on which the famed Antarctic explorer died.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024, St. John’s, Newfoundland

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 in Grytviken, South Georgia on January 5, 1922, aged 47.

After Shackleton’s death, the schooner was bought back to Norway by Schjelderup Sælfangstederi and was in active use until it sank off Labrador on 5 May 1962. The schooner took part in many historic expeditions, including the search for Roald Amundsen in 1928.

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. The Fram Museum has contributed to the expedition with searches in Norwegian archives, photos, log books, inquests and testimonies from the sinking in 1962. Director of the Fram Museum, Geir O. Kløver, participated in the expedition together with Tore Topp from Hamar, son-in-law of Quest’s last owner, Ludolf Schjelderup .

Quest Expedition Team
From top left:
Geir O. Kløver, Director Fram Museum and Fellow of Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Derek Lee, Team Member
Jan Chojecki, Grandson of John Quiller Rowett and Author of Quest Chronicle
John Geiger, Expedition Leader and CEO, Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Tore Topp, Author, Son-in-Law of Quest’s FInal Owner
Katherine Smalley, Team Member, Fellow of Royal Canadian Goegraphical Society
Mark Pathy, Team Member, Fellow of Royal Canadian Goegraphical Society
Craig Bulger, Project Engineer, Fisheries and Marine Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Front row from left:
Sarah Walsh, Geomatics Specialist, Centre for Applied Ocean Technology, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Martin Brooks, Co Fouder
Antoine Normandin, Deputy Search Director
David Mearns, Search Director, Blue Water Recoveries Ltd.
Jill Heinerth, Explorer in Residence, Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Alexandra Pope. Editor in Chief, Canadian Geographic
Photographer: Jill Heinerth

“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.

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 traditional waters of the Mi’kmaq, Innu and Inuit in 1962, while on a sealing expedition,” said Chief Joe. “I was happy to share local knowledge with the captain and crew of the search vessel to find Quest. Our team at Miawpukek Horizon Marine assisted in planning the expedition. Having our presence and involvement in this expedition means a great deal to our people.”

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.

Quest was built in Norway, and after Shackleton’s death, the ship reverted to Norwegian ownership. It continued to make history long after Shackleton, both through scientific expeditions and dramatic rescue missions in the Arctic. The period as a sealing vessel was also characterized by great risk and ended with the tragic sinking in 1962, where the entire Norwegian crew was rescued”, said Geir O. Kløver, 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.”

Added Hon. Lois Mitchell, “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!”


More about Quest:

The Shackleton Rowett Expedition of 1922 on board Quest is acknowledged to be the final chapter in the so-called Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (1880-1922) which saw polar titans Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen lead pioneering expeditions to the frozen continent in the name of science and discovery. The death of Shackleton on 5th January 1922 is often cited by historians as the dividing line between the “Heroic” and “Mechanical” ages of exploration.

Quest was originally built in Risør, Norway in 1917 as the wooden-hulled sealer Foca 1. She was renamed Quest by Lady Emily Shackleton.

Shackleton died of a heart attack aboard Quest on January 5, 1922, while the ship was anchored off Grytviken, South Georgia. Shackleton was enroute towards Antarctica on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition. He had been forced to abandon earlier plans to use Quest on a Canadian Arctic expedition after the Canadian government of Arthur Meighen withdrew its support. A British philanthropist, John Quiller Rowett, stepped in to fund the Antarctic expedition. Rowett’s grandson, Jan Chojecki, was also part of the Shackleton Quest expedition team. Jan is the author of The Quest Chronicle, published in 2022, the first book centered on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition in almost a century.

When Shackleton died, he was 47 years old and in the early stages of a journey to explore several islands and uncharted areas of the sub-Antarctic region.

After his death, Quest was acquired by a Norwegian company, and was involved in a series of important expeditions, including the 1930-31 British Arctic Air Route Expedition led by British explorer Gino Watkins, who himself tragically died aged 25 while exploring Greenland. Quest was also used in Arctic rescues including the search for Roald Amundsen when his plane crashed looking for Umberto Nobile and his men after the airship Italia crash landed in the Arctic. Quest also served in the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War, before resuming work as a sealing ship. In April 1962 Quest was damaged by ice and sank off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador at 17.40 on 5 May. All the Norwegian crew survived.

Geiger said a team effort made the discovery of the wreck possible, and thanked donors including Katherine Smalley and Derek Lee, Mark Pathy, and the Catherine and Fredrik Eaton Charitable Foundation whose support of the Shackleton Quest Expedition was critical. Additional support was provided by the Fram Museum, Oslo, and UK-based expedition-grade apparel company, Shackleton.

The sinking of the “Quest