The Wilkins Diaries & Documents
Philip van Dueren has taken a lead role in the challenging task of deciphering Sir Hubert’s diary entries, as well as other documents (passports, postcards etc). It will be fascinating to see what he and other volunteers will uncover.
This page will be a home for the “decoded” documents – our historian Dr Stephen Carthew has noted before that Sir Hubert’s handwriting is “very far south of legible”!
Almost exactly 100 years ago we can see Wilkins looking dapper in a cream jacket, sporting a cane. He is on deck with Shackleton on his left. This wonderful shot of the thirty-two-year-old Wilkins is about 25 seconds into the first video on the ‘ReQuest’ website. If you scroll down you will see other videos of the Quest, many of them shot by Wilkins.
The size of the Quest can be seen in its comparison to the Aquitania — most likely filmed by Wilkins (at 2m 20 secs. into this video).
Wilkins was initially employed as the ‘Naturalist’ on board but early in the voyage was asked by Shackleton to also ‘do the photography as well as natural history’, but he would not be excused from trimming coal, being ‘peggy’ or from standing 4-hour watches (8 to midnight, midnight to 4am or 4am to 8am) and other work with the crew. The employed cinematographer, Bee Mason, was dreadfully seasick and had to leave the voyage at Madeira. While understanding Shackleton’s predicament, Wilkins wrote in his diary:
‘It was impossible to do justice to all three or even two [jobs], but if he could not get anyone else to do it, I should do what I could.’
“The saloon is the dirtiest place I have ever eaten in + that is saying something. ……….. There is no place to put dirty dishes + the sea slops in whenever there is the least roll. The table + stools are not fastened down + the floor is hardly ever washed + with people sleeping + casting off their dirty clothes down there it is in a proper mess.”
“I have taken movies + stills of albatross mating, alighting + flying + some more of mollymawks. It is surprising that I have not seen any blackbrowed mollymawks since being here.
Photo via The Ohio State University Polar Archives Selection
While Wilkins admired Shackleton’s previous career, — especially his heroic leadership on the ill-fated Endurance, with his epic rescue of those left on Elephant Island, Wilkins’s diaries clearly reveal how frustrated he was with the Shackleton of the Quest — who in 1921 was slowing down due to the heart disease which led to his death on the 5th January 1922.
It is my intention to follow ‘The Voyage of the Quest: One-hundred–years On’ via this Wilkins Diaries page with snippets of these posted on the Wilkins Foundation Instagram (and its linked social media platforms) — so I won’t say too much more about it now.
Sir Hubert’s passport. Initially issued for 2 years, then extended for 5 years on 6 November 1924. Suzanne was added in 1929.