Tom Crean’s Death.
July 27th 1938 – Bon Secours Hospital, Cork.
“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” – George Eliot
For many years it had been thought that Tom Crean was born on July 20th 1877, that is until Kay Caball discovered his birth certificate, which proved that he was in fact born on February 25th 1877. July 20th however is still a date that will always feature in the life story of the man from Annascaul, who had taken part in three major Antarctic expeditions. Tragically it was on that day in 1938, that his untimely demise was set in motion.
The Irish Giant, as he had been called by those that served with him, and had witnessed, first hand, his immense and heroic contributions, suddenly began to feel quite unwell.
Tom had complained of acute stomach pains, and had began vomiting. He was rushed to Tralee hospital, which was situated about 16 miles from his home at the South Pole Inn. Appendicitis was quickly diagnosed, but in a cruel twist of fate, there was no surgeon on duty to perform the necessary operation. A transfer was arranged to the nearest available hospital, which was the Bon Secours in Cork, but it lay a damning 75 miles away.
Creans appendix had burst prior to its removal and infection quickly took hold. His condition deteriorated over the course of the following week, while his loving wife Nell kept vigil with him throughout his final days, as he drifted in and out of consciousness. On July 27th 1938, Tom Crean slipped into un-consciousness and from this world, as unassumingly as he had lived his humble post Antarctic years.
The funeral of Tom Crean, was as large a gathering of mourners, as the village of Annascaul had ever witnessed. Tom had been an extremely popular character, and despite almost refusing to speak about his heroic past, most of his friends and neighbours were aware of his exploits to some extent.Tom was buried at Ballynacourty cemetery, in a tomb he had built himself. He was laid to rest beside his daughter Katie, who had died of ill health, at the tender age of four.
Placed on top of the tomb was a glass case of porcelain flowers, a tribute from Edward Evans, the man who’s life Crean’s solo march had saved, in February 1912. It read, “In affectionate remembrance from an Antarctic comrade.”
Crean’s passing was widely reported and his death would have caused quite a shock, and conjured great sadness among his former exploration comrades. Continue Reading →
This is a dramatic reenactment of the epic true story of Ernest Shackleton’s doomed Antarctic expedition. It’s October, 1914, and under the command of Capt. Frank Worsley, the Endurance sets sail for Antarctica. But when the ship becomes trapped in the ice and is crushed, the fate of the crew seems sealed, except for the exceptional skills of their captain. Shackleton’s Captain tells—for the first time ever—the story of this fateful expedition across Antarctica, from Worsley’s own perspective (thanks to some real-life interviews). Beautifully photographed, emotional and moving … you’ll never get in a lifeboat again. Continue Reading →
The Voyage Of The James Caird.
April 24th – May 10th, 1916.
Tomorrow we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the James Caird reaching South Georgia, after a titanic 16 day, 800 mile journey, across the most volatile ocean on earth.
So slim were the chances of survival for the six man crew, as they left Elephant Island on April 24th 1916, that to all intents and purposes, it was their coffin that they dragged down the stony, perished beach, climbed aboard, and cast into the Weddell Sea.
The Weddell is a heaving, wind lashed, torturous monster, and the conditions the men endured, were simply horrific.
That they would emerge from a hurricane, 800 miles and 16 days later, and reach the rugged shores of South Georgia, is almost beyond comprehension.
But they did.
Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Frank Worsley, Timothy McCarthy, Harry McNish and John Vincent – Remember them!
The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
It is 102 years to the day, since Frank Hurley took this iconic photograph of the Irish explorer Tom Crean, during the Endurance Expedition. The setting for the powerful image was on the drifting ice floes of the Weddell Sea, where Crean, Hurley and the crew of Shackleton’s Endurance, had found themselves ensnared. It is, above all other photographs of Tom Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, unwavering courage and indomitable character.
Despite the unfavourable prospects of their situation, Crean fixes the camera with a stare of steely determination, yet somehow manages to exude the altruistic side of his aspect, that made him such a popular character with all who endeavoured with him. Continue Reading →
The Terra Nova Expedition.
Journal Entry – December 25th 1910.
“An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit. She gave birth to 17, it is said, and Crean has given away 22! I don’t know what will become of the parent or family; at present they are warm and snug enough , tucked away in the fodder under the forecastle.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
The expedition ship Terra Nova left New Zealand in November 1910, and headed for the ice of Antarctica. On board were 65 men, 34 dogs, 19 Siberian ponies and one concealed rabbit. Whilst all of the men and animals were officially accounted for in the ships inventory, it seems no-one knew of the rabbits presence, save for the man who had smuggled it on board.
Tom Crean was an animal lover, and he found a comfortable berth for his rabbit, among the horse fodder, aboard the heavily laden Terra Nova. This leads to the suspicion that perhaps Lawrence Oates was also aware of the animals presence, as his was the task of tending to the ponies.
On Christmas Day, 1910, while the ship was still at sea, the rabbit surprised all by producing 17 offspring, as rabbits do. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean’s First Glimpse of Antarctica
Having sailed from Lyttelton, New Zealand on 21st December 1901, aboard the expedition ship Discovery, with Captain Scott, Tom Crean caught his very first glimpse of Antarctica on January 8th, 1902. It must have been an overwhelming sight for the man, who had come from Annascaul in Co. Kerry, and now found himself at the end of the earth, staring upon a vast white landscape of seemingly never ending ice.
Looking at the black and white, and sepia tinted photographs and footage from the Discovery , and subsequent expeditions of the Heroic Age, it is easy to forget the beauty and marvel of Antarctica’s ever changing landscape, that would have greeted those that arrived there. From the towering ice cliffs of the
Barrier (now the Ross Ice Shelf) to the many surrealistically shaped ice bergs, sculpted by fracture, time and Antarctic winds. The majesty of the sights beheld by these Antarctic pioneers, was surely one the factors, that compelled them to return there.
Tom Crean would have had little idea, on that day, that over a century later his name would be forever synonymous with Antarctica. He would spend many years there, over the course of three major expeditions, and spent more time on the unforgiving ice of the continent, than either of the more celebrated Scott and Shackleton.
His heroic acts of bravery, most notably his epic solo march to save the life of Lt. Edward Evans, on the Terra Nova Expedition, and his part in the voyage of the James Caird, and subsequent crossing of South Georgia, resonate perhaps more palpably today, than ever before.
Crean and Scott’s Last Farewell
Terra Nova Expedition
January 4th 1912
On January 4th, 1912, Tom Crean would bid a final farewell to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, on the Polar Plateau, approximately 150 miles from the South Pole. Crean had served with Scott on the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904, and afterwards at Scott’s request, Crean joined him as a member of the crew of the Victorious in 1906. The two men would serve together from this point, right up until Scott’s untimely demise on his return from the South Pole, and they had formed a strong mutual respect for each other.
Above: Camp on the polar march taken during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew, among them Lieutenant Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers who took this photograph, circa December 1911. Bowers and Scott were both tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled them to take their own memorable pictures before perishing on their return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
On the 3rd of January Scott had announced that his Polar Party would consist of 5 men, namely Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Taff Evans and Oates, while Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans were to return to base, as the last supporting team. Crean was sorely disappointed, not to have been among the number of the Polar Party, and privately he had surely thought he would have been selected. When one takes into consideration, the amount of time he had served under Scott, coupled with his vast experience on the ice, he probably should have been. Crean had also been spared the rigours of man hauling the sledges, on the 400 mile Barrier section of the outward journey, as he had been tasked with leading one of the ponies. He did not fall into harness until the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, and as a result would have had more reserves of strength than some in the Polar Party, who had hauled for the duration.
Scott referred to the returning party in his diary on January 3rd, 1912 – “They are disappointed but take it well.” But it appears Scott did have a lingering sense of guilt, regarding his decision not to elect Crean. On hearing Crean clearing his throat, Scott by way of a justifiable excuse, opined, “that’s a bad cold you have Crean.” While Crean was not a man to hold a grudge, or indeed question the orders of his Captain, he knew Scott was dishonestly trying to validate his decision.
“I understand a half-sung song, sir,” was his curt response.
It (among many other facets of the journey) has long since been argued that Scott made a grave error, by not selecting Crean, and denying the Polar Party the benefits of his indomitable spirit, character, strength and stamina. Many hold the opinion that, had the Irish Giant been among the polar party, things may not have taken such a tragic turn. The truth is we will never know.
On This Day – December 25th 1902.
A First Christmas On The Ice Of Antarctica.
The Discovery Expedition (1901 – 1904).
Relatively speaking, Antarctica has only two seasons – Winter and Summer, and they occur contrary to the seasons in the northern hemisphere. The austral summer peaks in the months of January and February, and because of this, most of the endeavours of Antarctic explorers are plotted around a November to March timeframe.
This was no different in 1902, by which stage Tom Crean was well into his first venture to Antarctic climes, with Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition. In November of that year he was part of a 12 man team selected to lay a supply route for what would be Scott’s first tentative attempt to reach the South Pole, with Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, accompanying him.
On November 11 1902, Crean and a number of the depot laying team, under the command of Michael Barne, had achieved the honour of establishing a new farthest south record, when they passed the 78°50’S spot reached by Carsten Borchgrevink, on 16th February 1900.
When their mission was successfully completed they returned to Hut Point, having spent 35 difficult and labourious days on the ice. They would however, not rest for long, as a pre-planned exploration of the continents southwest, was next on their agenda. As Scott, Shackleton and Wilson laboured vainly towards the pole, Barne led out his six man team, including Tom Crean, on December 20th 1902.
They hauled well in excess of 1,000 lbs of supplies and equipment with them, on two sledges, but despite the immense physical demands of dragging five weeks supplies in their wake they nonetheless made good progress. Meanwhile, Scott’s southern party were relaying their supplies, dragging half their load forward, one mile at a time, then plodding back a mile, before hauling the remainder forward again. In short, for every geographical mile they had covered, the weary men had walked a distance of three miles.
Scott’s sledge party, which reached the furthest southern latitude on his national Antarctic expedition, celebrating Christmas. Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton, left, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, centre, and Dr Edward Adrian Wilson, right. Original Publication: Illustrated London News – pub. 1903
On December 25th 1902, Crean and his five companions crammed into one of the three-man tents they shared, to celebrate Christmas Day, on Antarctica’s great Ice Barrier. Dinner had been eaten and spirits were high as cards, which had been written by their Discovery shipmates were read aloud.
Barne noted that each man did a ‘turn’ during what he described as a ‘concert.’ It was without doubt the most unique white Christmas to date. Their tent, a tiny speck on the vast, unforgiving ice plains, emanating the alien sounds of songs stories and laughter, to blend with the eerie silence, or bewailing winds – the only other sources of sound, in the dominion of their splendid isolation.
In his excellent biography of Tom Crean, Michael Smith notes – “Crean was well known for breaking into song even under normal circumstances and now his voice was lubricated by a special gift which had been smuggled onto one of the sledges.”
“Our efforts were simulated by a bottle of port which had been brought for the purpose”
So wherever you celebrate Christmas, this year, spare a thought for the brave and bold pioneers of Antarctic exploration, who, on this day, 113 years ago, despite being enveloped by the harshest continent on the planet, somewhere deep within it’s icy interior, still took time to pause in their efforts and salute this most very special of occasions.
It was a bleak and dangerous place. They were at the foot of the world, in the midst of the last great unknown, but it was white and it was Christmas.
Source – An Unsung Hero – Michael Smith
Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer.
Image Colourisation by Vass Design.
Thanks to Pete Vass of Vass Design , who kindly forwarded this image to me, for use on the website. I can only imagine the long hours of painstakingly meticulous work, that has gone into it’s production, but the end result is a stunning full colour image of the ‘Irish Giant’ Tom Crean.
This image is just one of a series of pictures from the Heroic Age of Antarctic exploration, that have been colourised by Pete, and you can view them all by following the link below.
View More Colourised Polar Pictures
Tom Crean Infographic
The Discovery Expedition
Tom Crean For Kids
A Tom Crean Infographic, featuring key Tom Crean dates, focusing on those of his very first Antarctic expedition, with Robert Falcon Scott, aboard the ship Discovery. You can download the PDF of this infographic below.
Information Source – Tom Crean An Illustrated Life, Michael Smith.