The Iconic Tom Crean Portrait
The Endurance Expedition 1914 – 1917
It is 104 years to the day, since Frank Hurley took this iconic photograph of the Irish explorer Tom Crean, during the Endurance Expedition. The setting for the powerful image was on the drifting ice floes of the Weddell Sea, where Crean, Hurley and the crew of Shackleton’s Endurance, had found themselves ensnared. It is, above all other photographs of Tom Crean, the one image that has become synonymous with his immense strength, unwavering courage and indomitable character.
Despite the unfavourable prospects of their situation, Crean fixes the camera with a stare of steely determination, yet somehow manages to exude the altruistic side of his aspect, that made him such a popular character with all who endeavoured with him. Continue Reading →
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”.
Memorial Cross Raised On Observation Hill.
Terra Nova Expedition.
On January 22nd 1913 Tom Crean, and the Terra Nova expedition team, raised a memorial cross in honour of the Polar Party, all of whom had died on their return march from the South Pole. The cross was placed on the summit of Observation Hill, which is 754 ft high and looks out across the Ross Ice Shelf, where the men tragically perished.
Prior to this Tom Crean was also part of the search party that had located the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers in their tent on November 12, 1912. The Relief Expedition had discovered the top of the tent protruding from the snow, at first thinking the mound was merely an old supply cache. History owes these men a huge debt of gratitude, for without their discovery, the fate of the Polar Party, would never be known. Their journeying, after January 4th 1912, when the last support team of Crean, Lashly and Evans, parted company with them, on the polar plateau, would be merely a subject of speculation and counter theory.
For those that discovered the frozen bodies of their three former comrades, and close friends, it was a truly horrific experience. Having identified the tent, it had to be excavated from the snow, before anyone could enter, with enough light to determine the gruesome scene within. Tom Crean wept bitterly, cradling Scott in his arms. It appeared that Scott was last to die. Bowers and Wilson looked at peace in their sleeping bags, perhaps as though Scott had tended to them, when they had passed.
Strewn about the tent were their belongings, journals, letters, and the paraphernalia of their efforts to survive there.
The equally grim fates of Edgar Evans and Lawrence Oates, were learned from Scott’s journal. So too, the fact that they had successfully reached the South Pole, as had Amundsen, a month prior to them; knowledge of which mattered little at that moment of intense grief.
“Then Atkinson read the lesson from the Burial Service from Corinthians. Perhaps it has never been read in a more magnificent cathedral and under more impressive circumstances—for it is a grave which kings must envy. Then some prayers from the Burial Service: and there with the floor-cloth under them and the tent above we buried them in their sleeping-bags—and surely their work has not been in vain.”
from “The Worst Journey in the World: Antarctic 1910-1913 – Apsley Cherry-Garrard
Scott’s Polar Party Reach The South Pole.
Terra Nova Expedition.
“Great God! This is an awful place …..”
Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Edgar ‘Taff’ Evans and Lawrence Oates arrived at the South Pole on January 17th 1912. It was an enormous achievement, but this fact was all but lost on the Polar Party, as they realised they had been beaten to the accolade of ‘First to the Pole’, by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and his team. As they had approached the Pole they had spotted a black flag, dog tracks and footprints. The sickening realisation that they had lost the race, dawned upon them.
For Scott, reaching the South Pole had been eleven years and two expeditions in the making. For the achievement to be shrouded in such disappointment, was a cruel blow to the great Antarctic pioneer.
Scott summed up their despair in a particularly poignant journal entry, where he wrote – “The Pole. Yes, but under very different circumstances from those expected … Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority. Well, it is something to have got here.”
No solace could have assuaged their disappointment, and tragically the men would not survive to pluck eventual satisfaction from the enormity of their feat.
The Terra Nova Expedition.
Journal Entry – December 25th 1910.
“An event of Christmas was the production of a family by Crean’s rabbit. She gave birth to 17, it is said, and Crean has given away 22! I don’t know what will become of the parent or family; at present they are warm and snug enough , tucked away in the fodder under the forecastle.”
― from “Journals: Captain Scott’s Last Expedition (Oxford World’s Classics)”
The expedition ship Terra Nova left New Zealand in November 1910, and headed for the ice of Antarctica. On board were 65 men, 34 dogs, 19 Siberian ponies and one concealed rabbit. Whilst all of the men and animals were officially accounted for in the ships inventory, it seems no-one knew of the rabbits presence, save for the man who had smuggled it on board.
Tom Crean was an animal lover, and he found a comfortable berth for his rabbit, among the horse fodder, aboard the heavily laden Terra Nova. This leads to the suspicion that perhaps Lawrence Oates was also aware of the animals presence, as his was the task of tending to the ponies.
On Christmas Day, 1910, while the ship was still at sea, the rabbit surprised all by producing 17 offspring, as rabbits do. Continue Reading →
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 the Nimrod Expedition (1907-1909), Shackleton, Wild, Adams and Marshall had reached a new Furthest South record at latitude 82°17′S, on January 9th 1909, before electing to abandon their quest, 97 miles from the South Pole.
Shackleton had astutely surmised that he and his team were capable of reaching the Pole, but would not have the provisions to survive the return trip. As it transpired Shackleton and Wild were extremely fortunate to make it back to Hut Point, on February 28th 1911, the day before their ship Nimrod was due to leave Antarctica. The departure was delayed, and rescue was raised for Marshall who had collapsed, around 38 miles from the hut, and Adams who had remained behind to care for him.
Despite falling short of actually reaching the South Pole, Shackleton received much acclaim and recognition for his brave effort, and he had pioneered the route from the Barrier to the Polar Plateau, via the Beardmore Glacier.
This seemed to be the catalyst for Scott’s decision to return to Antarctica with his Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913), and he opted to follow in Shackleton’s footsteps, treading the same route, southwards, towards the Pole, and indeed by using ponies as a means of hauling supplies, just as the Irishman had.
Scott’s assault on the South Pole was finally set in motion on October 24th 1911, when the Motor Party rolled out of Cape Evans with two motorised sledges, which carried vast quantities of supplies. On November 1st, Scott and the pony party would follow in their tracks, and the two groups were scheduled to meet beyond One Ton depot, at latitude 80° 30′ S.
Meanwhile Roald Amundsen in his desperation to beat his rival Scott, to the accolade, had set off on from his base Framheim on September 8th, but the desperate, freezing conditions forced him into an inglorious retreat. The temperature had plummeted to -56º C.
Amundsen had decided to pioneer his own route south, from his base in the Bay of Whales, and he would reach the Plateau by being the fist to scale the Axel Heiberg Glacier. Crucially, in terms of the ‘race’ Amundsen had elected to use dog teams instead of ponies, for hauling the sledge loads, and he did so with utter proficiency.
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.”