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.
Honouring Tom Crean: a centenary expedition with the Crean family (Antarctic Kerryman Publishing), €15.00, will be published in November 2017. The official launch takes place at The Ashe Hotel, Tralee, Co Kerry, on November 28th. Doors open at 7.30pm. All welcome.
T: 064 6641589
Biographical note on the author:
Bill Sheppard was born in Chester in the northwest of England. He worked as a fireman in the London Fire Brigade and took early retirement due to a hearing problem. He worked as an estate manager and sports coach before graduating from Chester University with a degree in archaeology. Aileen Crean O’Brien, granddaughter of the Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, is his partner and Honouring Tom Crean: a centenary expedition with the Crean family is his first book. He lives in Kenmare, Co Kerry.
I first met Aileen and Bill, on April 9th, 2016, after being invited to the launch of the South Georgia Centenary Traverse 1916 – 2016 with Tom Crean’s Family, and I will always remember them for their kindness and hospitality.
On an unusually cold and crisp April morning, I drove from Co. Laois, to the majestic Kingdom of Kerry. I opted to take the scenic route from Killarney, and believe me ‘scenic’ is putting it very mildly. The sights along the Ring Of Kerry, truly have to be seen to be believed – wild, rugged, jaw droppingly beautiful, and on this particular day, the mountain tops were decorated in a dusting of snow.
I arrived in Kenmare, where Aileen runs the Tom Crean Fish & Wine Restaurant, only just preceding the Crean family, who had man hauled their sledge all the way from Killarney, along what is known as the Old Kenmore Road. It may not have been Antarctic territory, but looking at the photographs of their trek that morning, it appeared to be quite an arduous endeavour, and almost as if Tom Crean sent his blessings, it snowed as they made their way along the route.
What struck me that day was Aileen’s sheer determination to follow in the footsteps of her heroic grandfather. There was no fear regarding the task ahead, despite her asking me, “am I mad?”
Certainly a question worth pondering when you consider the arduous training all the family had to undergo, long before the daunting prospect of crossing the notorious Weddell Sea; not to mention then taking on the inhospitable interior of South Georgia.
Tom Crean went to Antarctica not once, not twice, but on three separate major expeditions during the Heroic Age. Firstly on Discovery with Captain Scott in 1901, and again with Scott in 1910, aboard the Terra Nova. Tragically Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans would perish in desperate circumstances on their return from the South Pole in 1912. Crean, Lashly and Edward Evans had parted company with Scott, on the Polar Plateau, 150 miles from the pole, on January 4th, 1912, and returned as the last supporting party. Their 750 mile return trek became a desperate battle of survival, culminating in Tom Crean’s epic solo march, on February 18th.
Starving and utterly exhausted, Crean and Lashly had hauled Evans on their provisions sledge for almost 100 miles, as he had fallen victim to scurvy. 35 miles from base, with Evans teetering at the deaths door, Crean made the brave decision to strike out alone and raise rescue. In what is considered the single most heroic act in the history of Antarctic exploration, Crean covered the course in 18 hours, sustained by a few biscuits and a piece of chocolate. His two companions were later rescued by Atkinson and Demitri, with a dog team. Both Crean and Lashly later received the Albert Medal for Conspicuous Bravery, from King George.
Crean was the only member of the tragic Terra Nova Expedition to ever return to Antarctica, and he did so in 1914, as Second Officer aboard Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance. What transpired after the ship became ensnared in the ice of the Weddell Sea, and eventually sinking, is perhaps the greatest survival story of all time. Shackleton and his 27 man crew, were stranded on a floating slab of sea ice, thousands of miles from civilization, surrounded by nothing but the monstrous Southern Ocean.
When that ice began to break up beneath them, all 28 men set sail in search of land, in three lifeboats, they had salvaged from the ship. After a gruelling seven day voyage they made landfall at Elephant Island, becoming the first humans to ever set foot on it’s desolate shores. With no hope of rescue from this rocky outcrop, their only feasible option, was the prospect of an almost impossible 800 mile journey to South Georgia.
On April 24th 1916, Shackleton, Crean, Worsley, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish set sail aboard the modified James Caird. After a hellish 16 day voyage, the last two of which were spent battling for their lives, against the might of a hurricane, they somehow contrived to make safe landfall, on the western flank of the island, on May 10th.
The penultimate chapter in the epic tale of the Endurance Expedition is of course the traverse of the icy peaked interior of South Georgia, to reach the whaling station of Stromness, on it’s eastern shores. From here the seeds of what transpired to be a protracted rescue, were sown. It would take four attempts, but ultimately Shackleton, Crean and Worsley, would return to Elephant Island, on August 30th, 1916, aboard the Yelcho, and liberate all of their comrades.
It too was Shackleton, Crean and Worsley, who had undertaken the crossing of South Georgia, leaving Vincent and McNish, both of whom were physically shattered, in the care of Kinsale man, Timothy McCarthy.
Equipped with nothing more than a carpenter’s adze and a coil of rope, they climbed into the unknown, on May 19th, becoming the first to ever traverse the island’s uncharted interior, and they did so in 36 hours.
Mad? Once the idea had been cast, and the possibility became ever more attainable – to literally follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, the great Tom Crean, to tread the very terrain where his final trek as an Antarctic explorer eventuated, to cross the Crean Glacier, named so in his honour, to see Stromness, that glorious galvanized garrison of their salvation, to see the Manager’s house where Crean and Shackleton were so comfortable that first night, that they could not sleep; and just to be there, on the same inhospitable, sub Antarctic island, that will forever be synonymous with the epic tale of the Endurance Expedition, a place that will forevermore be enchanted with the spirits of those brave, heroic men – It would have been madness not to!
Honouring Tom Crean, is the book that tells the tale of the descendant’s of Tom Crean, and their determined desire to fittingly honour the centenary anniversary of just one heroic aspect of an illustrious exploration career, that abounds with accomplishments of selfless gallantry.
Bill Sheppard’s account is a beautifully written, beautifully presented tome, and like all things ‘Tom Crean’ it is a tale peppered with courage, conviction, calamity, resolve and rescue.