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Centenary of Scouting - Scouts of the Quest

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands - Commemoratives

Release Date - 15 October 2007


Sir Ernest Shackleton was one of the foremost British Polar explorers of his day. Besides accompanying Scott, he led his own expeditions including the 1914 Endurance voyage to the Antarctic where the ship became beset by pack ice and was crushed. The crew, marooned on Elephant Island, had to endure the hardships of a second Antarctic winter. They were saved only by a heroic open boat journey of some 1500 km across the polar seas to South Georgia. The hero of the hour was undoubtedly 'The Boss', Shackleton.

Following the First World War, Shackleton planned another expedition aboard Quest. He needed a cabin boy, and he knew where to look. He wrote:

  “For many years, I have been an admirer of the Boy Scout Movement, which I may say appeals to me particularly because it seems to give every boy a grounding in the practice of exploration.” 

Applications were invited and from 1700 received, Shackleton interviewed ten Scouts. He said that he wished he could take the lot! As it was, he could not distinguish between the top two, Patrol Leader Norman Mooney, aged 17, from Orkney and James Marr, 18, “a bluff, big-hearted fellow from Aberdeen’, so he decided to take them both. A photograph taken at the time forms the 60p stamp.
Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement, wrote to congratulate the boys and concluded,
                “ I want to ask you to remember that far away you will be the centre of a world-wide interest on the part of not only your brother Scouts, but of everybody who believes in, or does not believe in, Scouts.”
The boys appeared on the front cover of Young Britain (shown on the 25p stamp) and its following issues devoted several pages to their young lives. They became the most famous Scouts in Britain!
Quest was moored at St Catherine's Dock, near the Tower of London, and both Scouts were very much in the public eye as the vessel prepared to sail. The 50p stamp shows them raising the King's Flag specially presented to the Quest Expedition. She slipped her moorings on 17 September 1921, amidst dense crowds on both banks of the river. 
Very rough weather was experienced in the Bay of Biscay, necessitating a detour to Lisbon, where some of the crew, including Scout Mooney, who had been overcome by seasickness, had to leave the expedition. Back at sea conditions did not improve, Marr wrote,
                “…the waves were averaging between 30ft and 40ft high. Many were over 40ft. The boss told me that he had been at sea nearly thirty years and had never seen a gale maintained so long and with such intensity.”
The vessel eventually reached South Georgia, on the very edge of Antarctica but the following day, 5 January 1922, Shackleton died in his sleep from a heart attack. He was only 47. 
Commander Frank Wild, the Second-in-Command, took over the leadership of the expedition. Quest continued ever southwards until she could no longer force her way through the pack ice. Like Endurance before her, Quest became beset by the ice. James Marr helped photographer Hubert Wilkins record the event, before she eventually broke free. Wilkin’s photograph forms the £1.05 stamp.
The death of ‘The Boss' overshadowed everything and the expedition was unable to meet all its objects, but on the return voyage it visited Tristan da Cunha. Baden-Powell had sent a flag for the island’s Scout Troop that Marr was to present.
       “I accomplished the ceremony in due form: regretting that I lacked the ability to deliver an inspiring speech; and then after it was all over ...I endeavoured to tell them what Scouting really meant.”
On 17 September 1922, Quest returned to the Thames. Marr does not record any special welcome for the ship or her crew. He notes, with a sense of the anticlimax, that;
      “Quest was finally berthed and our work was done”.
Scouting however did honour its hero. Marr was invited by Baden-Powell to meet the Prince of Wales at a special rally attended by 60,000 Scouts, where he unfurled the Royal Standard as the Prince arrived at the saluting base. The autographed postcard depicted on the 85 pence stamp was produced at this time.
Marr's book, Into the Frozen South, was published in 1923 and might have been the end of this remarkable story. Marr however went on to complete his degree at Aberdeen University and sailed south again as a Zoologist. Before the Second World War he had completed three further expeditions.
He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and in 1943 was recalled from operations in the Far East to lead ‘Operation Tabarin’, a covert operation in the Falkland Dependencies.        
After the war ‘Operation Tabarin’ became The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. This, in turn, was renamed The British Antarctic Survey.
An eminent Marine Biologist, who also worked as part of the Discovery Expeditions, James Marr went on to write the major reference work on Antarctic krill, the basic component of the Antarctic food chain. He died in Surrey in 1965.
Marr's life, like many others, was transformed by his contact with the Scout Movement. His story is a remarkable parallel with that of US Eagle Scout Paul Siple who was also chosen by competition to accompany Admiral Byrd on his Antarctic explorations. Like Marr he became one of his county’s foremost polar scientists. Siple was responsible for researching the ‘Wind Chill Factor’ and went on to lead the 1957 Antarctic Geophysical Year station at the South Pole. Byrd was clearly motivated by Scout Marr’s excellent example and many other Scouts have served with distinction in Antarctic regions. 
Technical details:
Designer:                                                   Andrew Robinson
Printer:                                                       Joh Enschede
Process:                                                     Superfine Stochastic Lithography
Perforation:                                               14 per 2cms
Stamp size:                                                28.45 x 42.58mm
Layout:                                                      50 (2 × 25)
Release date:                                             15 October 2007
Production Co-ordination:                      Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd
Picture Acknowledgements:
25p          The front cover of Young Britain, October 8th 1921.
50p          From Marr’s book “Into The Frozen South”, 1923.
60p          Colin Walker.
85p          Colin Walker.
£1.05        From Hurley’s book “South Aboard the Quest” 1922
FDC          Adapted from Wild’s book “Shackleton’s Last Voyage, the story of the Quest”, 1923.
We acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Scott Polar Research Institute and Colin Walker, the author of the Scouting Milestones Scout History Website www.scouting.milestones.btinternet.co.uk which contains full-length articles on both Scout Marr and Eagle Scout Paul Siple.