Tom Crean On The Polar Plateau.
December 25th 1911.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13.
Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s, assault on the South Pole began on November 1st 1911. The southern journey was a mammoth undertaking – a 900 mile march, on foot, with provisions being hauled on sledges. Dog teams and ponies played supporting roles to the physical efforts of the men, but once the team had reached the foot of the Beardmore Glacier, manpower was the only mode of progression.
The dog teams turned back at this point, and the last of the surviving ponies, including Crean’s pony Bones, were shot. Their meat was cached.
The journey can be summarised in three main stages;
1. Across The Barrier (Ross Ice Shelf), from their base at Cape Evans, to the foot of the Beardmore Glacier. A journey of approximately 400 miles.
2. Traversing the Beardmore Glacier. A steady climb of 10,000 feet over a 120 mile crevasse riddled glacier.
3. The Polar Plateau – From the top of the Beardmore to the South Pole. Approximately 380 miles.
Shambles Camp was the name given to their last Barrier depot, before the group began the ascent of the fearsome glacier. Three sledge teams began the treacherous clamber on December 10th, 1911:
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Atkinson, Wright and Lashly.
Sledge 3 – Bowers, Cherry-Gerrard, Crean and Keohane.
On Friday , December 22nd the three teams had reached the top of the Beardmore, made their Upper Glacier depot, and Scott now had to decide which team would return to base, and who would forge ahead. There was no pre-planning by Scott, regarding returning teams, and decisions were made, it seems, only at the point when they needed to be made. This probably allowed Scott to monitor the physical and mental conditions of the men, and make his choices based on that diagnosis.
Man hauling on the Beardmore Glacier, December 13th 1911. Front from left – Cherry-Garrard and Bowers. Rear from left – Keohane and Crean, while Wilson pushes.
Atkinson, Wright, Cherry-Gerrard and the Irishman, Keohane, were selected to return, and begin the weary descent of the Glacier they had just scaled. “Affecting farewell’s” were made and the two sledge teams continued their heavy hauling south.
Sledge 1 – Scott, Wilson, Oates and P.O. Evans.
Sledge 2 – E. Evans, Bowers, Crean and Lashly.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910-1913
A wonderful collection of photographs of Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition, from the lens of Herbert Ponting.
The Ever Changing Continent
If you have ever wondered as to how the crew of the Endurance, suddenly found themselves completely ensnared in the ice of the Weddell Sea, before they had even made landfall on the Antarctic continent, bearing in mind the prior experience of men like Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean, to mention but two, then take a look at this fascinating video, on the amazing and rapid formation of the regions sea ice.
From The Terra Nova Expedition
An excellent collection of 14 videos from the Natural History Museum, giving a great insight into Scott’s tragic Terra Nova expedition. Originally made to coincide with the museums exhibition in 2012, the videos are none the less, a must watch collection. The Terra Nova expedition sailed to Antarctica with the objectives of both scientific research, and of being the first to stand at the South Pole.
Much has been written about the Polar Party reaching the Pole to find they had been beaten to the accolade by Roald Amundsen, and subsequently dying on their return march. But the men of the Terra Nova also completed an extraordinary amount of scientific work, and undertook several perilous expeditions across the ice to do so.
The Lure Of Antarctica
Have you ever wondered, as to why men like Tom Crean, Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton repeatedly returned to the hardships of exploring the frozen continent? All three men served together and first visited Antarctica on Scott’s Discovery Expedition (1901-1904), and a new furthest south record was established.
Shackleton would next lead his own British Imperial Antarctic Expedition (Nimrod 1907-1909) and got as close as 97 miles to the South Pole – yet another furthest south record.
Then Scott and Crean returned on the Terra Nova (1910-1913) in an effort to reach the Pole ahead of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team. Amundsen would win the race and Scott’s five man team did attain the Pole, but tragically all would die on the return march.
With the Pole now conquered Shackleton decided to attempt a trans-Antarctic crossing of the continent, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea via the South Pole. Tom Crean would join Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antartic Expedition (Endurance, Aurora, 1914-1917), which became an epic battle for survival, after the Endurance was trapped and crushed by the ice of the Weddell Sea.
All of Shackleton’s crew would survive the ordeal, but three of the Ross Sea Party (Aurora) would lose their lives at the other end of the continent.
The Terra Nova Expedition 1910 – 1913
The Terra Nova expedition was both Captain Scott’s and Tom Crean’s second journey to Antarctica, as both men had been part of the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904.
The aims of the British Antarctic Expedition ( official name of the Terra Nova expedition ) was chiefly to reach the South Pole, but also there was the important objectives of scientific research – meteorological, geological, geographical and zoological.
While many of the scientific aspects of the excursion were successful, and indeed Scott and his team did reach the Pole on January 17th 1912, the expedition ultimately ended in tragedy with the deaths of all five men of the Polar Party, on their return journey.
Despite the fact that this expedition took place over 100 years ago, the photographs of Herbert Ponting affords us an excellent visual backdrop to the fascinating stories of endeavour, bravery and tragedy, that unfolded on the harsh frozen continent of Antarctica.
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Tom Crean & The South Pole
Despite his heroics in Antarctic climes, Tom Crean never actually made it to the South Pole. On January 3rd 1912, Tom was only 150 miles from the Pole, when Captain Robert Falcon Scott opted to send him back to base as part of the last support party. Scott’s Polar Party did succeed in reaching The South Pole, but tragically all five men would perish on the gruelling return journey.
As perhaps the fittest and strongest of the eight men who stood within 150 miles of The Pole on the morning of January 4th, before the parties went their separate ways, it is a certainty that Tom Crean would also have made it to the Pole.
The questions are, could he have survived the trek back to base, that claimed the lives of his five comrades, and whether or not he could have done anything to save them? Bearing in mind that the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found in their tent, only around 11 miles from a huge, and potentially life saving supply cache, the question is a justified one.
Roald Amundsen had of course beaten Scott and his Polar Party to the South Pole, arriving there on December 14th 1911, around five weeks before Scott. Amundsen and his men were the first humans to stand at The South Pole.
Footage from the Terra Nova Expedition
90º South 1933
Herbert Ponting was the official cameraman on Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition, 1910- 1913, capturing for posterity some fascinating footage of Scott’s legendary and ultimately tragic campaign. He originally released the material as a silent documentary called The Great White Silence, in 1924, but with the coming of sound to film making, he decided to narrate the footage himself and released this version, named 90º South in 1933.
Tom Crean Discovery – Video Embedding Policy