Why Did The Kerryman Go To Antarctica?

Leaving Annascaul – The Tom Crean Generation.

How a young Annascaul man, became an Antarctic explorer.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

A young Tom Crean, from his days aboard HMS Ringarooma.

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.

Man Hauling - Terra Nova Expedition

Man Hauling up the Beardmore Glacier – On Scott’s Southern Journey

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 →