The Southern Sky Rescue Attempt.
The Endurance Expedition – May 23rd 1916.
Shackleton, Crean and Worsley had stumbled into Stromness whaling station on May 20th 1916, to the utter disbelief of all who endeavoured there. The trio were unrecognisable, shattered, destitute men, who had just completed the most epic of journeys, traversing ice, sea and uncharted land. With McCarthy, Vincent and McNish, they had left their 22 comrades behind on Elephant Island, on April 24th, and sailed over 800 miles across the storm lashed Weddell Sea, in their lifeboat, in search of rescue for them. That 16 day voyage was a hellish passage, that ended on May 10th 1916, in the death throes of a violent hurricane, that had enveloped them for the previous 24 hours. Somehow they had summoned the strength to fight the storm. Somehow, as they were tossed and battered by wind and wave, they had managed to avoid the rocky approaches and cliff faces of South Georgia, that the elements continuously hurled them towards.
As the fury abated, making landfall was of paramount importance. As to where, hardly mattered. These men were physically and mentally shattered, and parched; their fresh water supply having run out days beforehand. So dry were their mouths that they could not eat. There is no wrong side of the island to land upon in such a situation. Even in the relative post hurricane calm, it was an extremely difficult task, to weave their tiny timber boat through the rocky agglomerations that constitute the island.
Having finally landed, they found themselves on the opposite side of the island, to their intended destination of Stromness, but more importantly they found a fresh water stream. Over the course of the next few days the men recouped, for the task ahead. They sailed further up the inlet of King Haakon Bay, and set up quarterage, using the upturned James Caird, as as a shelter, at a place they named Peggotty Camp. Continue Reading →
Salvation At Stromness.
The Endurance Expedition (1914 – 1917).
“We had pierced the veneer of outside things. We had “suffered, starved, and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory, grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.” We had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
One can completely understand why Sir Ernest Shackleton felt so poetic, when he stood above Stromness whaling station, with Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, on May 20th 1916. Whether the words came to him then, or in considered reflection afterwords, they tremor with the sheer magnitude of the moment.
For below the trio lay salvation. They had saved themselves. They would save their three companions, who had voyaged with them in the James Caird – McNish and Vincent, too ill to venture further, remained behind on the opposite side of the island, in the care of Timothy McCarthy. They would save their 22 comrades stranded 800 miles away on Elephant Island. And undoubtedly they had grown bigger in the bigness of the whole.
What they had overcome was simply colossus! How they had done it – unimaginable! How they conspired, endured, and overcame, to not just survive but to triumph, is quite frankly unfathomable.
And this was the moment! It was the moment the escape from the ice was over, and the rescue could begin. How glorious did the blubber drenched, whale stenched, galvanised garrison of Stromness, appear to the three men, that day? Continue Reading →
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.
Public Announcement of Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition
On This Day – January 13th, 1914.
On this day in 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton publicly announced his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which had been in planning for quite some time. The main objective of the expedition was to cross the Antarctic continent, via the South Pole, from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea.
The journey would be a gruelling 1,800 mile trek, in the harshest and coldest conditions on the planet, but this did not seem to deter those who applied to be among the crew. In all, Shackleton received almost 5,000 applications, from which he picked 56 men, to sail south aboard the Endurance and the Aurora.
Tom Crean was appointed Second Officer, of the Endurance, less than a year after returning from Scott’s ill fated Terra Nova expedition.
Of the 31 men who had ventured south with Scott in 1910, only one would ever attempt to return to Antarctica, and that man was Tom Crean.
Shackleton struggled to raise the required funds for the venture but eventually he secured £24,000 from the main contributor, James Caird, £10,000 from Dudley Docker and an undisclosed but sizeable donation from Janet Stancomb-Wills. The lifeboats aboard the Endurance were later named after the three contributors, and an additional £10,000 grant from the British Government ensured that the expedition would go ahead.
In the words of the British skiing pioneer Sir Harry Brittain, Ernest Shackleton had become “a bit of a floating gent”, since his return from the Nimrod Expedition, in 1909. Shackleton had set a new farthest south record, and had stood, an agonizingly close, 97 miles from the South Pole. Unfortunately he was forced to abandon the quest for the pole, due to dwindling supplies, and both he and his three companions were very lucky to survive the return journey. 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 of 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 more palpably today, than ever before.
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.
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 James Caird Reaches South Georgia.
The Endurance Expedition.
“We fought the seas and the winds and at the same time had a daily struggle to keep ourselves alive. At times we were in dire peril.”
Sir Ernest Shackleton – South
On May 10th 1916 Shackleton, Worsley, Crean, McCarthy, Vincent and McNish reached South Georgia aboard the James Caird lifeboat, which they had sailed from Elephant Island. The 800 mile journey across the planets most violent stretch of water had taken them 16 torrid days to complete. One can only wonder, as to whether the weary, frozen, starved and parched men realised the sheer enormity of their achievement, as they dragged themselves and their boat from the icy waters that day.
Traversing the Weddell Sea is never anything less than a mammoth task. Doing so in a 23 foot long lifeboat during the Antarctic Winter, is almost beyond comprehension. But that is exactly what those six men did. Continue Reading →
Tom Crean – Quotes
Sir Ernest Shackleton – Quoted from “South”
As the tiny James Caird lifeboat made its way across the convulsive Weddell Sea, and the weary six man crew struggled to cope with numerous dangers, hunger, cold and unrelenting soakings, sometimes Tom Crean would sing, especially when he would take up his shift at the boat’s tiller. Crean’s singing has been mentioned in many Polar memoirs, and none allude to anything other than the fact that he was not particularly adept at it, though it did in some strange way help raise his comrades morale. During moments of intense peril or indeed at times when some of the mens spirits were starting to flag, Crean’s crooning would begin.
Below is Sir Ernest Shackleton’s take on Crean’s intoning on the voyage of the James Caird.
Shackleton’s Lifeboats Make Landfall On Elephant Island
The Endurance Expedition
On April 9th 1916, the ice floe that Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance, had established Patience Camp upon, had begun to break up beneath their feet, and forced them into a rather hasty evacuation. The men had previously managed to salvage three lifeboats from the Endurance which had been first trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea in January 1915, before it sank on November 21st, of that year, and these vessels were their only hope of escape.
The three lifeboats had earlier been named after the chief financial backers of the expedition. Shackleton took command of the largest of the lifeboats, the James Caird, the Dudley Docker was commanded by Worsley, and Hubert Hudson took command of the Stancomb Wills.
However Hudson’s mental condition was deteriorating, after months of confinement on the ice, and he was suffering badly with frostbite, so it was soon Tom Crean who assumed command of the Wills. Being the smallest and most vulnerable of the three crafts, Crean’s task was immense and his efforts in keeping the Wills afloat, sailing through a labyrinth of ice and battling the rough sea, was truly heroic. Conditions on the boats were appalling as the freezing, soaked and hungry men suffered from seasickness and diarrhoea, as they sailed in search of land.
Initially Shackleton had contemplated reaching either Deception Island or Hope Island, but after three days at sea, Worsley ascertained that the strong currents had been causing the boats to drift south east. Taking this and the wretched condition of his men into consideration, Shackleton opted to strike for what he deemed the nearest attainable landfall – Elephant Island.