The Nimrod Expedition (1907 – 1909).
How the loss of Shackleton’s Socks changed the course of Antarctic History
On December 6th, 1908, as Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams scaled Antarctica’s Beardmore Glacier; Socks plummeted to his death, lost to one of the many crevasses that fractured the pathway to the polar plateau. He was the last to die, of the four ponies that had started the southern journey. Many of the unfortunate beasts had perished in Antarctica prior to the loss of Socks, and many more would die on subsequent expeditions, but the death of this particular pony would have ramifications that reverberate to this very day.
With each step, each mile and each expedition, the explorers of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration, gradually unravelled the enigmas, of the mysterious white continent. Between the years 1902 and 1911, Antarctica was considered the last great prize in exploration worth striving for. To garner support, and more importantly funding, each expedition sailed with the promise of scientific discovery, but at the heart of all quests was the ambition to be first to stand at the South Pole.
In 1901, Robert Falcon Scott’s DiscoveryExpedition, was the first to set off for Antarctica, with the intention of a ‘southern journey’. This was the term the explorers had coined for an assault on the South Pole. Scott’s effort commenced on November 2nd, 1902 and he took with him Third Officer, Ernest Shackleton, the expedition’s junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson, and a party of sled dogs.
The course of their intended route to the pole can be broken down into three basic sections. A journey of roughly 450 miles, across the Great Ice Barrier was the first obstacle, and though they knew not what lay beyond, once completed, the explorers would find themselves at the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. The crevasse ridden glacier was a 120 mile expanse that rose 7,200 feet, to the polar plateau, which was the last section of the journey. From here, a trek of over 300 miles separated the men from their goal. Continue Reading →
Leaving Annascaul – The Tom Crean Generation.
How a young Annascaul man, became an Antarctic explorer.
On January 4th 1912, Tom Crean and Captain Robert Falcon Scott, shook hands, embraced and parted company for the very last time. They were situated 150 miles from the South Pole, on Antarctica’s unforgiving polar plateau. Crean would return to base as part of the last support party, with Edward Evans and Bill Lashly, whilst Scott would make a final push for the pole, taking with him Oates, Wilson, Bowers and Edgar Evans.
That he had not made the final cut for the Pole Party, was no refection of Scott’s opinion of Crean, in terms of his ability for the task. Quite the opposite in fact.
After taking three 4-man sledging teams up the Beardmore Glacier, Scott’s original intention, was for two of them to return to base, during the journey, whilst he would proceed as part of the last four man unit.
The First Supporting Party which consisted of Atkinson, Cherry-Garrard, Wright, and Keohane, turned back as planned, in latitude 85º 15′ on December 22, 1911. But on January 3rd, Scott informed the seven remaining men of a significant permutation to the original plan. He had decided to bring four men southwards with him, and send the last support party home, as a three man team.
Scott had not decided upon, or assigned any definitive role, regarding sledging teams before departure. This astute move allowed him to monitor the men, over the course of the gruelling journey, and make his ongoing selections, based on these observations of performance and health.
Crean’s potential place on the team was always likely to have been a choice between himself and Edgar Evans. That Scott chose Evans and opted to send Crean back, says more about his opinion of the Irishman, than one may imagine. It is often argued that Tom Crean was the fittest and most capable of the men that stood with Scott on the plateau that day, and should therefor have been selected for the Pole Party; whereas in actual fact, Crean was most likely sent back with a team that was a man short, because of that very fact.
A cruel twist of Fate? Most definitely not! One of the most quoted sentiments about Tom Crean, is that if Scott had included him in the Pole Party, they would all have survived. This of course we will never know for certain, and opinions are no doubt clouded by Crean’s heroics as part of the Last Support Team. What we can say for certain is that Lt. Edward Evans would have certainly died but for Crean’s inclusion in that team. His epic solo march, at the end of a gruelling 1,500 mile journey is the stuff of legend.
But could he have saved Scott and the Polar Party? Most probably not. Considering every aspect of their return, including surface conditions, the evaporation of cached fuel, severely low temperatures, and the subsequent results of frostbite, fatigue and diminishing daily distances; it is safer to suggest that no-one could have saved the doomed men, the last of whom (Scott, Wilson and Bowers) died 11 miles short of One Ton Depot.
Crean’s input may certainly have seen them reach the depot, but that, and subsequent possibilities thereafter, can only be consigned to the realms of conjecture. It is more realistic to say that Scott, by way of not selecting him, actually saved Tom Crean’s life. That twist of fate, saw Crean heroically save Edward Evans, and later play an integral role in the epic survival story that was the Endurance Expedition.
From Annascaul to Antarctica.
So how did Tom Crean – the son of a poor farmer from Co. Kerry – find himself, on the polar plateau, not just shoulder to shoulder with Captain Scott, but as one of his most trusted and admired team members? Both men had come from such diverse backgrounds. Continue Reading →
Edward Evans Stands Accused of Sabotaging Scott’s Southern Journey.
Did his actions lead to the deaths of the Polar Party, in 1912?
Arguably the best known scientific Antarctic venture was the British Antarctic Expedition of 1911–1913 led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott. Whilst the so-called race to the geographic South Pole with Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian Antarctic expedition excited international interest, the tragic death of Scott and his returning Polar Party was a striking reminder of the hazards of operating in the south. Recent work has highlighted the possible role expedition second-in-command Lieutenant Edward ‘Teddy’ Evans played in the deaths of Scott and his men. Here I report newly discovered documents which, when placed in a wider context, raise significant questions over Evans’ behaviour during the expedition. The evidence focuses on the shortage of food at key depots, the apparently deliberate obfuscation of when Evans fell down with scurvy and the failure to pass on orders given by Scott. It is concluded that Evans actions on and off the ice can at best be described as ineffectual, at worst deliberate sabotage. Why Evans was not questioned more about these events on his return to England remains unknown.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s, British Antarctic Expedition (1910-1913), also known as the Terra Nova Expedition, is in my opinion the most convoluted saga ever to play out on the ice of Antarctica. It is a complex tale of plot and subplot, with 34 men comprising of the Shore Party and Scientific Staff, who in the close confinement of their huts, and the vast expanse of the Antarctic wastes, weaved the epic tale of scientific research, pioneering journeys, glorious triumphs and desperate tragedy.
It is of course the desperate tragedy, with the death of all five members of the polar party, that has dominated and formulated opinion of the expedition ever since. Every available aspect of the venture has been scrutinised and re-scrutinised. When men die someone must be at fault, it seems. Despite the fact that Scott, Wilson, Edgar Evans, Oates and Bowers, all died returning from the southerly depths of the most inhospitable and remote territory on earth, many have sought to find a human element to assign the burden of blame to.
Scott himself has come under fire for perceived fault, the accusations ranging from bad planning, and his choice of ponies as a mode of transport as opposed to dogs, to his placement of One Ton Depot and his selection and demotion of the various members of the supporting teams, on the southern journey. All can be validly argued, and indeed counter argued, in most instances. Albeit that is, the placement of One Ton Depot, 30 miles shy of it’s intended standing, which did of course have massive repercussions, on the homeward journey. Lawrence Oates walked to his death, in the latitude where it should have stood, and Scott, Wilson and Bowers, all died, 11 miles shy of it’s more northerly footing. Continue Reading →
Honouring Tom Crean.
Centenary Expedition with the Crean family.
Honouring Tom Crean is a new book that charts the expedition by descendents of Kerry Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, to South Georgia on the centenary of his heroic traverse of the island with Ernest Shackleton and Frank Worsley.
Honouring Tom Crean: a centenary expedition with the Crean family
By Bill Sheppard
Aileen Crean O’Brien
Team Tom Crean faced serious challenges when Tom Crean’s granddaughter, Aileen Crean O’Brien, had a serious accident on the second day of their traverse on a hostile and remote Antarctic island
In Honouring Tom Crean: a centenary expedition with the Crean family, Bill Sheppard records the expedition he undertook with family members of the Antarctic explorer on the centenary of the Kerryman’s historic traverse of South Georgia with Frank Worsley and captain of the Endurance, Ernest Shackleton. Wishing to honour their renowned grandfather and great-grandfather, the Crean O’Brien family decided to retrace his footsteps on the thirty-six hour traverse that finally brought the three men to Stromness whaling station and salvation after months of being stranded in the frozen ice.
The book details the training and funding challenges Team Tom Crean faced in the year before departing Ireland for Antarctica. Once on the Shackleton Traverse, they believed they were finally close to completing their lifelong dream when disaster struck and Aileen had an accident that resulted in members of the Crean family, along with Bill, again being tested to the limits of their endurance on South Georgia.
Over many days, they faced physical and mental challenges which, Bill writes, they sometimes struggled to overcome. In their darkest hours, however, the spirit of the man they had come to Antarctica to honour inspired them to endure and to not give up. A century on, Bill Sheppard shows that Tom Crean’s character lives on, not just in his descendants but also in a very real way in the place where he made Polar history.
Captain Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition 1910 – 1913.
A Photograph Gallery.
A collection of some of the lesser seen images captured on Robert Falcon Scott’s, ill fated Terra Nova Expedition.
Demetri Gerof with a dog team at Cape Evans photographed during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, circa October 1911. Scott was tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled Scott to take his own memorable pictures before perishing on his return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Captain Robert Falcon Scott/Popperfoto/Getty Images)
Continue Reading →
Shackleton, Crean and Worsley Complete The Rescue.
22 Men Plucked From Elephant Island On August 30th 1916.
On August 30th 1916, the impossible happened! Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley returned to the desolate outcrop that is Elephant Island, aboard a ship named Yelcho.
As the 22 stranded men had watched the James Caird lifeboat disappear over the horizon into the monstrous Weddell Sea, on April 24th 1916, Frank Wild optimistically opined that they would all be saved within four or five weeks.
In reality the chances that the six men – Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish – could survive an 800 mile crossing of the most desolate stretch of ocean on the planet were virtually nil.
Yet they did! Then, leaving the shattered John Vincent and Harry McNish in the care of Timothy McCarthy, the three men made the first ever crossing of the alpine interior of South Georgia. They reached the whaling station at Stromness on May 20th, and the seeds of what would prove to be a protracted rescue were sown.
On the fourth attempt the sea ice that had thwarted their three previous voyages, finally afforded the men the long sought passage to their stranded comrades on Elephant Island. Within an hour of location, all 22 men had been ferried aboard the Yelcho, and they set sail for Punta Arenas, Chile.
“As I manoeuvred the Yelcho between stranded bergs and hidden reefs, Shackleton peered through his binoculars with painful anxiety. I heard his strained tones as he counted the figures that were crawling out from under the upturned boat. ‘Two – five – seven -‘ and then an exultant shout. ‘They’re all there, Skipper. They are all safe! His face lit up and years seemed to fall off his age. We three* solemnly shook hands as if we were taking part in some ritual.”
Quoted from – F.A. Worsley, Shackleton’s Boat Journey.
*Shackleton, Worsley and Crean, shook hands – a quite modest acknowledgement of the successful conclusion of their heroic endeavours.
“The Voyage of the James Caird, which was set in motion on April 24th 1916, when the tiny lifeboat was dragged from the relative safety of the grim desolate beach on Elephant Island, and cast into the most tumultuous and tortuous body of water on the planet, had finally reached conclusion. Six brave souls had climbed aboard and pitched themselves against almost certain oblivion, to somehow conspire to not just survive, but to endure, overcome, return, and pluck their comrades from the jaws of death, and from the final unbelievable chapter of the epic tale of The Endurance Expedition.”
Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer Portrait.
To mark the 79th anniversary of the death of the Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean, this is a digital artwork, entitled ‘Tom Crean Antarctic Explorer Portrait’. Continue Reading →
When Your Life Depends on It:
Extreme Decision Making Lessons from the Antarctic.
By Brad Borkan and David Hirzel
To those of us that engross ourselves in the captivating histories of the expeditions of Antarctic exploration, it is all very matter of fact. We know the ships, the men, the tragedies, the triumphs, the many tales of heroism and the prerequisite hardships. Shackleton came agonisingly close in 1907, but Amundsen won the ‘race’, beating Scott to the South Pole, in December 1911. Scott had never subscribed to the race nonsense, but nonetheless arrived in second place, on January 17th 1912. “Great God this is an awful place”, he opined. It truly was. And the awfulness of the most hostile continent on the planet, had yet to truly bare it’s teeth.
Amundsen had quite effectively used dog teams to bridge the distance, whereas Scott had opted for the more cumbersome components of ponies and man hauling. Amundsen and his team, returned to their base camp, 10 days ahead of schedule, whilst Scott’s party never made it back, dying in wretched circumstances, on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Before the remnants of Scott’s expedition had even left the continent aboard the Terra Nova, in January 1913, Douglas Mawson’s, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, was writing the next grisly chapter in Antarctic exploration. Mawson had turned down the opportunity to join Scott, instead deciding to explore King George V Land and Adelie Land. What ensued for Mawson, Ninnis and Mertz, was a tale of tragedy, madness, death and survival.
Then came Shackleton again, in 1914. The Endurance Expedition, was exactly what it said on the boat. Ignored advice, trapped in the ice, life on the ice, escape from the ice, cold, hunger, sickness, isolation, deprivation, amputation, determination, formulation, one last voyage, one lifeboat, six men, eight hundred miles of Weddell Sea, South Georgia reached, a mountainous range for three to traverse, salvation at last on reaching Stromness, and eventual rescue, after months of attempts.
Brad Borkan and David Hirzel, in their book, When Your Life Depends On It, challenge you to look at these remarkable events, from a different perspective. They place us, the readers, into these life and death situations, encouraging us to assess how we might have responded. They explore the teamwork, leadership, camaraderie, sheer grit and determination, and explain the methods and lessons that can be garnered from them, and put to use in our modern world. Continue Reading →
The Tom Crean 312 Cycle.
312 KM From Naas to Annascaul.
“Next Saturday 24th June, a group of eight of us from Naas Cycling Club are undertaking an epic one day cycle in honour of Tom Crean. We leave Naas at 5 a.m. and cycle to Athy to visit Shackleton’s Statue and then head for Annascaul, via Limerick to hopefully arrive at Tom’s statue at 7pm. We will then retire to the South Pole Inn for recovery. The total distance is 312km or about 12 hours cycling time.”Peter Grady
The Voyage of the James Caird.
April 24th – May 10th 1916.
The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).
It is without doubt the greatest open boat journey ever undertaken. Six men dragged their timber lifeboat down the rocky shore of Elephant Island, and cast themselves and boat, into the might and fury of the notorious Weddell Sea. Within moments the turbulent Southern Ocean had tipped the boat, plunging Harry McNish and John Vincent into the frigid waters. A grim reminder of what lay ahead, as the two men clambered back ashore.
And it was a gruesome journey. Shackleton would later recall “The tale of the next sixteen days is one of supreme strife amid heaving waters. The sub-Antarctic Ocean lived up to its evil winter reputation.” ‘Supreme strife’ scarcely conveys the immediate experience of McNish and Vincent, yet alone the remainder of that dreadful passage. It was 800 miles, over the course of sixteen days, in which time, they caught a glimpse of the sun, on only three occasions. That Worsley could guide them to that speck on the map, named South Georgia, in such circumstances, was a feat of navigational brilliance. On the tenth day at sea, the boat was walloped by an enormous wave, which towered above the vessel, before slamming down on them. The physics of the impact somehow contrived, that they emerged from the monstrous hit, afloat, albeit practically submerged. They bailed frantically for their lives, succeeded, and sailed onward. Ever onward. Continue Reading →