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 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 set foot on Antarctica again, 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 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 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.
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.
Tom Crean Retires From The Royal Navy
On March 24th 1920, Tom Crean retired from the Royal Navy, after almost 27 years of service, having officially enlisted as Boy 2nd Class on July 10th, 1893. While serving aboard HMS Fox, in April 1919, Crean had suffered a serious fall, causing a bad head injury, which would have lasting effects on his eyesight.
Almost a year later, whilst serving on HMS Hecla, Tom Crean was declared medically unfit to serve, because of his defective vision, and the giant Irishman retired on medical grounds.
Crean returned home to Annascaul, where he and his wife Eileen would later open the South Pole Inn, public house. In 1920 he also turned down the chance to venture south again, when requested by Ernest Shackleton to join him on the Shackleton-Rowett Expedition, aboard the Quest, stating that he now had ‘a long haired pal’ to look after.
Crean’s legacy in the Navy was that of an able, hard working, honest and most reliable seaman, but it is his exploits on three Antarctic expeditions of exploration, that have catapulted his name into the realms of heroes. His courage, compassion and selflessness, displayed during the harshest and most challenging of circumstances, in the icy climes of Antarctica, have led to him being regarded as one of the bravest men ever to have set foot on the frozen continent.
Tom Crean by GTV
Good Time Villains or GTV for short, are a Dublin based band playing indie folk music. The band originally formed in Perth Australia, when Richie and Mick met and started playing together, then later came back home to Ireland to form the full band with bassist Stephen Caulfield and drummer Carl O Connor.
The band are awaiting the launch of their upcoming EP, which will be entitled GTV, and among the six tracks is the song ‘Tom Crean’. The launch date for the EP is April 17th, and the group have decided to host the event in” The Strawberry Hall Bar”, which is located in the Strawberry Beds in Dublin. The pub is favored by the band due to its renowned reputation for music artists in Dublin. It is not unheard of for some of Ireland’s other finest musicians to be heard playing there and Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard, Declan O Rourke and the Riptide Movement have all been said to play a couple of tunes in the Strawberry Hall at one time or another.