Shackleton Reaches New Farthest South Record
Nimrod Expedition 1907-1909
On January 9th 1909, Ernest Shackleton, Frank Wild, Jameson Adams and Eric Marshall reached a new Farthest South record of 88° 23′ S, far surpassing the previous record of 82° 17’S, achieved by Scott, in December 1902. Shackleton along with Edward Wilson had accompanied Scott on that occasion, and it was a laborious effort. After their support teams had turned back, on November 15th, the three men began the gruelling task of relaying their loads. They dragged half their provisions forward for a distance of one mile, and then walked back to their remaining supplies, and hauled them forward again. It equated to the rather sombre fact that for every geographical mile they had covered, they had walked a distance of three miles.
This was not a method of advancement that would acquire the South Pole, and one has to question whether it was ever really a serious attempt to do so. Probably not. Wilson had noted in his diary that their goal 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”.
Shackleton had of course fully intended reaching the South Pole, on the Nimrod Expedition, and almost did, but after the difficult ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, which they had discovered, and named after their chief sponsor, they had laboured across the Polar Plateau, and slowly realised that reaching the Pole was beyond them.
Rations were fast running out, and there simply would not be enough food to sustain the men, over the distance required to reach the Pole, and the subsequent return march. On the 4th of January, Shackleton finally conceded defeat, and opted instead to target the consolation of getting to within 100 miles of the South Pole.
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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.
Sir Ernest Shackleton dies at South Georgia
The expedition ship the Quest arrived in South Georgia on January 4th 1922. Sir Ernest Shackleton was sailing South again. This expedition which had been financed by Shackleton’s friend, John Quiller Rowett, intended circumnavigating Antarctica.
Tom Crean who was now married, had politely refused Shackleton’s request to join him on the expedition, stating that he now had ‘a long haired pal’ to look after.
Two of the crew on board when the Quest left Plymouth were Boy Scouts, James Slessor Marr and Norman Mooney, who had come through a rigorous competition, before being selected by Shackleton, for the honour of travelling with him to Antarctica. Shackleton was an admirer of the Boy Scout movement, and had arranged the competition with Baden Powell.
After encountering rough seas in the Bay of Biscay, the Quest had to detour to Lisbon for repairs, and the seriously seasick Scout, Norman Mooney left the expedition. James Slessor Marr would continue the voyage, and aided by Shackleton, he began a journal of his travels aboard the Quest, which would later be published as Into The Frozen South, by Scout Marr.
Crean and Scott’s Last Farewell
Terra Nova Expedition
January 4th 1912
On January 4th, 1912, Tom Crean would bid a final farewell to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, on the Polar Plateau, approximately 150 miles from the South Pole. Crean had served with Scott on the Discovery Expedition 1901 – 1904, and afterwards at Scott’s request, Crean joined him as a member of the crew of the Victorious in 1906. The two men would serve together from this point, right up until Scott’s untimely demise on his return from the South Pole, and they had formed a strong mutual respect for each other.
Above: Camp on the polar march taken during the last, tragic voyage to Antarctica by Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew, among them Lieutenant Henry Robertson (Birdie) Bowers who took this photograph, circa December 1911. Bowers and Scott were both tutored by Herbert Ponting, the renowned photographer who was the camera artist to the expedition, which enabled them to take their own memorable pictures before perishing on their return from the South Pole on or after 29th March 1912. (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)
On the 3rd of January Scott had announced that his Polar Party would consist of 5 men, namely Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Taff Evans and Oates, while Tom Crean, Bill Lashly and Lieutenant Teddy Evans were to return to base, as the last supporting team. Crean was sorely disappointed, not to have been among the number of the Polar Party, and privately he had surely thought he would have been selected. When one takes into consideration, the amount of time he had served under Scott, coupled with his vast experience on the ice, he probably should have been. Crean had also been spared the rigours of man hauling the sledges, on the 400 mile Barrier section of the outward journey, as he had been tasked with leading one of the ponies. He did not fall into harness until the ascent of the Beardmore Glacier, and as a result would have had more reserves of strength than some in the Polar Party, who had hauled for the duration.
Scott referred to the returning party in his diary on January 3rd, 1912 – “They are disappointed but take it well.” But it appears Scott did have a lingering sense of guilt, regarding his decision not to elect Crean. On hearing Crean clearing his throat, Scott by way of a justifiable excuse, opined, “that’s a bad cold you have Crean.” While Crean was not a man to hold a grudge, or indeed question the orders of his Captain, he knew Scott was dishonestly trying to validate his decision.
“I understand a half-sung song, sir,” was his curt response.
It (among many other facets of the journey) has long since been argued that Scott made a grave error, by not selecting Crean, and denying the Polar Party the benefits of his indomitable spirit, character, strength and stamina. Many hold the opinion that, had the Irish Giant been among the polar party, things may not have taken such a tragic turn. The truth is we will never know.
On This Day – December 25th 1902.
A First Christmas On The Ice Of Antarctica.
The Discovery Expedition (1901 – 1904).
Relatively speaking, Antarctica has only two seasons – Winter and Summer, and they occur contrary to the seasons in the northern hemisphere. The austral summer peaks in the months of January and February, and because of this, most of the endeavours of Antarctic explorers are plotted around a November to March timeframe.
This was no different in 1902, by which stage Tom Crean was well into his first venture to Antarctic climes, with Captain Scott’s Discovery Expedition. In November of that year he was part of a 12 man team selected to lay a supply route for what would be Scott’s first tentative attempt to reach the South Pole, with Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson, accompanying him.
On November 11 1902, 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.
When their mission was successfully completed they returned to Hut Point, having spent 35 difficult and labourious days on the ice. They would however, not rest for long, as a pre-planned exploration of the continents southwest, was next on their agenda. As Scott, Shackleton and Wilson laboured vainly towards the pole, Barne led out his six man team, including Tom Crean, on December 20th 1902.
They hauled well in excess of 1,000 lbs of supplies and equipment with them, on two sledges, but despite the immense physical demands of dragging five weeks supplies in their wake they nonetheless made good progress. Meanwhile, Scott’s southern party were relaying their supplies, dragging half their load forward, one mile at a time, then plodding back a 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.
Scott’s sledge party, which reached the furthest southern latitude on his national Antarctic expedition, celebrating Christmas. Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton, left, Captain Robert Falcon Scott, centre, and Dr Edward Adrian Wilson, right. Original Publication: Illustrated London News – pub. 1903
On December 25th 1902, Crean and his five companions crammed into one of the three-man tents they shared, to celebrate Christmas Day, on Antarctica’s great Ice Barrier. Dinner had been eaten and spirits were high as cards, which had been written by their Discovery shipmates were read aloud.
Barne noted that each man did a ‘turn’ during what he described as a ‘concert.’ It was without doubt the most unique white Christmas to date. Their tent, a tiny speck on the vast, unforgiving ice plains, emanating the alien sounds of songs stories and laughter, to blend with the eerie silence, or bewailing winds – the only other sources of sound, in the dominion of their splendid isolation.
In his excellent biography of Tom Crean, Michael Smith notes – “Crean was well known for breaking into song even under normal circumstances and now his voice was lubricated by a special gift which had been smuggled onto one of the sledges.”
“Our efforts were simulated by a bottle of port which had been brought for the purpose”
So wherever you celebrate Christmas, this year, spare a thought for the brave and bold pioneers of Antarctic exploration, who, on this day, 115 years ago, despite being enveloped by the harshest continent on the planet, somewhere deep within it’s icy interior, still took time to pause in their efforts and salute this most very special of occasions.
It was a bleak and dangerous place. They were at the foot of the world, in the midst of the last great unknown, but it was white and it was Christmas.
Source – An Unsung Hero – Michael Smith
Terra Nova Expedition – Southern Journey.
Outward March – Camp 15, November 19th 1911.
It was day 19 of Robert Falcon Scott’s Southern Journey, and progress was slower than Scott had expected. The ponies were struggling in the harsh conditions and were constantly sinking in the deep snow. Scott’s team had developed pony shoes for the animals, and when trialed on the soft surfaces, they proved to be a significant success. However, Lawrence Oates who was in charge of the ponies, objected to their use, and most were left behind, despite their effectiveness.
This was a decision that Scott should have over-ruled. Of the 19 ponies brought along on the expedition, 9 had died prior to the departure of the South Pole journey, which greatly weakened their prospects of hauling the supplies to the Beardmore Glacier. The remaining 10 animals that set out with the team on November 1st, should have been afforded every possible advantage, for the gruelling task ahead.
Scott’s Southern Party at One Ton Depot.
November 16th, 1911
The Terra Nova Expedition.
Extracts from Robert Falcon Scott’s Diary.
Wednesday, November 15. – Camp 12.
“Found our One Ton Camp without any difficulty [130 geographical miles from Cape Evans].”
Robert Falcon Scott, on reaching One Ton Depot.
“After a discussion we had decided to give the animals a day’s rest here, and then to push forward at the rate of 13 geographical miles a day.”
“A note from Evans dated the 9th, stating his party has gone on to 80° 30′, carrying four boxes of biscuit. He has done something over 30 miles (geo.) in 2½ days – exceedingly good going. I only hope he has built lots of good cairns.
“Most of us are using goggles with glass of light green tint. We find this colour very grateful to the eyes, and as a rule it is possible to see everything through them even more clearly than with naked vision.”
Thursday. November 16. – Camp 12.
“Resting. A stiff little southerly breeze all day, dropping towards evening. The temperature -15°. Ponies pretty comfortable in rugs and behind good walls. Continue Reading →
Extract From Scott’s Diary
Saturday November 4th 1911.
“Just after starting picked up cheerful note and saw cheerful notices saying all well with motors, both going excellently. Day wrote ‘Hope to meet in 80° 30′ (Lat.).’ Poor chap, within 2 miles he must have had to sing a different tale. It appears they had a bad ground on the morning of the 29th. I suppose the surface was bad and everything seemed to be going wrong. They ‘dumped’ a good deal of petrol and lubricant. Worse was to follow.
Some 4 miles out we met a tin pathetically inscribed, ‘Big end Day’s motor No. 2 cylinder broken.’ Half a mile beyond, as I expected, we found the motor, its tracking sledges and all. Notes from E. Evans and Day told the tale. The only spare had been used for Lashly’s machine, and it would have taken a long time to strip Day’s engine so that it could run on three cylinders. They had decided to abandon it and push on with the other alone. They had taken the six bags of forage and some odds and ends, besides their petrol and lubricant. So the dream of great help from the machines is at an end! The track of the remaining motor goes steadily forward, but now, of course, I shall expect to see it every hour of the march.”
Scott’s Southern Journey.
A Quotation by Thomas Griffith Taylor.
NOVEMBER 1st 1911
“Cherry had Michael, a steady goer, and Wilson led Nobby — the pony rescued from the killer whales in March…. Christopher, as usual, behaved like a demon. First they had to trice his front leg up tight under his shoulder, then it took five minutes to throw him. The sledge was brought up and he was harnessed in while his head was held down on the floe. Finally he rose up, still on three legs, and started off galloping as well as he was able. After several violent kicks his foreleg was released, and after more watch-spring flicks with his hind legs he set off fairly steadily. Titus can’t stop him when once he has started, and will have to do the fifteen miles in one lap probably!
Dear old Titus — that was my last memory of him. Imperturbable as ever; never hasty, never angry, but soothing that vicious animal, and determined to get the best out of most unpromising material in his endeavour to do his simple duty. Continue Reading →
Scott’s Southern Journey.
On This Day – November 1st 1911.
A collection of photographs taken on November 1st 1911, as Captain Robert Falcon Scott embarked upon his quest to be first to reach the South Pole. Prior to his departure, Scott had been tutored in the techniques of photography by the expedition’s photographer Herbert Ponting, as Ponting himself would not be part of the group that would venture southwards.
This enabled Scott to keep a visual record of the journey, and all of the images below, were captured on the very first day of the outward journey, and show the establishment of the first pony camp, along the route.