February 4th 1902
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climb aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable, even at that height was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
Scott, Shackleton and Wilson return to Discovery
Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904
On February 3rd 1903, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson made it back to their ship Discovery, after their arduous Southern march, which had commenced on November 2nd 1902. The objective had been, according to Wilson’s Diary “to get as far south in a straight line on the Barrier ice as we can, reach the Pole if possible, or find some new land”, but it is safe to suggest it was never really likely that the Pole would be attained on this particular excursion. The men lacked the skill and experience required with dogs, and indeed the ice, and from the offset progress was slow, and planning poor.
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.
Discovery Arrives at Plymouth.
British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04.
Generally known as the Discovery Expedition, The British National Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04, was Britain’s first official foray into Antarctic climes since the 1839-1843 voyage of James Clark Ross, with HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.
On 4 February 1902, Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition, landed on the Barrier and unloaded an observation balloon, which Scott had brought along for the purpose of achieving aerial surveys. Scott himself was first to climb aboard the balloon and it rapidly ascended to a height of 180 m, but thankfully the balloon was firmly tethered. Ernest Shackleton piloted the second ascent, and as with Scott, the only thing observable even at that height, was the seemingly endless expanse of icy whiteness that constituted the Barrier. The expeditions junior doctor and zoologist, Edward Wilson privately noted that he thought the flights to be “perfect madness”.
The Discovery Expedition succeeded in its quest to undertake scientific studies in Antarctica, in fields as diverse as biology, zoology, geology, meteorology and magnetism. On the Western Journey, Antarctica’s only snow free valleys were discovered, in the western mountains of Victoria Land, and became known as The Dry Valleys.
Second Lieutenant – Discovery Expedition
Born 15th October 1877 – Died 31st May 1961
Michael Barne, who was Second Lieutenant on Robert Falcon Scott’s, Discovery Expedition, died on the 31st of May 1961. He was the last surviving member of the expedition, and passed away at the age of 83.
Born at Sotterley Park, Suffolk in 1877, he joined the Navy as Midshipman in 1893. In 1901 Scott appointed him Second Lieutenant for the Antarctic expedition, and he would earn the Polar Medal for his contribution. He had written extensive notes on his experiences over the course of the expedition, detailing both his specialist fields of magnetronemy and soundings.
He married after returning from Antarctica, and later served in the First World War, earning the Distinguished Service Order medal. He retired with the rank of Captain in 1919, but during the Second World War he returned to duty to command an anti-submarine patrol ship.
Tom Crean’s enters the Antarctic Circle
Scott’s Discovery Expedition
January 3rd 1902
On January 3rd 1902, Tom Crean sailed into Antarctic waters for the very first time, aboard the Discovery, which was commanded by Robert Falcon Scott. The British National Antarctic Expedition, as it was officially known had a somewhat unexpected crew member, in Crean, who only joined the Discovery after its last port of call at Lyttelton, New Zealand.
Tom Crean was assigned to the Ringarooma, which was also in the area, and its crew were helping Scott with final preparations, before departure for Antarctica.
One of the Discovery crew, a man named Harry Baker, was involved in a dispute, and struck an officer. Baker fled, rather than face his punishment and now Scott’s crew was a man short.
Realising his only hope of replenishing his crew lay with Captain Rich of the Ringarooma, Scott approached him with the request for one of his men. When the call went out for a volunteer, it was Tom Crean who took up the challenge. Continue Reading →
New Farthest South Record Set.
Discovery Expedition – 30th December 1902.
On this day in 1902, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson established a new ‘Farthest South’ record, on the Discovery expedition. They had trekked hundreds of miles across Antarctica, reaching latitude 82º 17’S. It had been a tentative, yet truly pioneering effort, and there was little hope of the quest ever achieving its goal, of actually reaching the South Pole. It is safe to assume that in all probability, it was not deemed possible, even by the participants themselves. Wilson had noted in his diary, that their aim was “to get as far south in a straight line on the Barrier ice as we can, reach the Pole if possible, or find some new land.” The three men were relaying their supplies, dragging half their load forward, one mile at a time, then plodding back that mile, before hauling the remainder forward again. In short, for every geographical mile they had covered, the weary men had walked a distance of three miles. The physical demands of this system were simply not sustainable.
As it transpired, the only reward their efforts yielded was in achieving the new record, without ever leaving the Barrier, on December 30th, 1902. It was the second time within the space of a couple of months that the ‘farthest south’ measurement had been surpassed. On November 11 1902, Tom Crean and a number of the depot laying team, under the command of Michael Barne, had achieved the honour of establishing a new farthest south record, when they passed the 78°50’S spot reached by Carsten Borchgrevink, on 16th February 1900. They had been a support party, for Scott’s southern journey, and had been tasked with laying a supply route for the three men.
On December 25th 1902, Scott, Shackleton and Wilson had taken time out from their gruelling man hauling efforts to celebrate Christmas Day. It was far from elaborate, but their double rations were supplemented with a Christmas pudding, which Shackleton had secretly brought with him, for the occasion.
Dr Wilson (left) and Captain Scott at the furthest point South – they planted the British flag in latitude 82.17 on December 30th, 1902, 270 miles from the ship and 420 from the pole. The third member of the party was Lieutenant Shackleton. They were absent from the ship for three months from November 1902 to February 1903. Original Publication: Illustrated London News – pub. 1903
On December 30th, the group, having reached 82º 17’S, correctly opted to turn back. All three, but Shackleton in particular, would suffer greatly on the return journey, from frostbite and scurvy. As their journey progressed, Shackleton was unable to haul the sledge and stumbled alongside, and on occasions, he had to be placed upon the sled, such was his condition. The last of the dogs which had accompanied the men, also died on the return trip. Scott and Wilson worked tirelessly to ensure that Shackleton would survive the ordeal, and deserve great credit for their efforts. They eventually returned to the ice-bound Discovery on 3rd February 1903 after a round trip of almost 1,000 miles.
Somewhat against his will, Shackleton was sent home on the relief ship Morning, on Scott’s orders. Scott wrote, that at this point he felt Shackleton “ought not to risk further hardships in his present state of health”.
It is often speculated that this was to cause a rift between Scott and Shackleton. What is certain though, is that Shackleton was spurred on to launch his own assault on the South Pole, which he duly did aboard the Nimrod in 1907. He would not achieve the Pole on this expedition, but he did set, yet another Farthest South record of 88º 23’S, along with Wild, Marshall and Adams, when they stood less than 100 miles from the South Pole, before they were compelled to abandon their effort.
It is also worth noting that Scott abandoned the notion of using dog teams to haul provision sledges, after their poor performance on this venture. Both he and Shackleton opted to use ponies instead, on their subsequent expeditions – The Nimrod (Shackleton), and the Terra Nova (Scott). Whilst the dogs hadn’t performed well on the Discovery’s southern journey, not enough emphasis was given to the facts that none of the men were trained to use the animals on ice, and mistakes had been made when calculating food rations for the animals.
Amundsen would later demonstrate just how efficiently dog teams could perform, with trained handlers and proper food.