On This Day – January 29th 1908
Joins HMS Essex under Captain Scott.
On January 29th 1908, Tom Crean joined the HMS Essex, which was under the command of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.
Having returned with Scott from the Discovery’s Antarctic expedition in 1904, Crean had reverted back to normal Navy duties, and served at Portsmouth’s torpedo school.
In September of 1906 Scott invited Crean to join him on HMS Victorious, and the Irishman duly accepted the offer. Victorious would be the first of four different ships, after the Discovery Expedition, that the Polar veterans would serve on together, before departing for Antarctica again in 1910, aboard the Terra Nova.
The two men held each other in high regard, and there was a strong mutual respect between them, which was first forged in Antarctica in 1902.
Crean was a late addition to the crew of Discovery, when he replaced one Harry Baker, who had struck an officer, and fled before his punishment could be dispensed. Nonetheless the Irishman, proved himself to be a major asset to the expedition, and thrived on the ice, both sledging and man hauling.
Scott was certainly impressed with Crean’s reliability and dedication, and upon returning to Portsmouth on September 10th 1904, he immediately promoted him to Petty Officer 1st Class, with a recommendation that he be back paid his increased salary. Scott also made a point of highlighting Crean’s “meritorious service throughout”.
So it was no surprise that the ever reliable Tom Crean was a man that Scott wanted among his number, when he summoned him to join him on the HMS Essex. They would serve together, until they went their separate ways on the Polar Plateau, 150 miles from the South Pole, on January 4th 1912.
What was surprising, and indeed a crushing blow to Crean, was that Scott somehow chose not to select him to be among the five man polar party. Instead he was sent back as a member of the last supporting team, and faced a 750 mile march to Cape Evans, alongside Bill Lashly and Lt. Edward Evans.
Scott, Wilson, Oates, Bowers and Edgar Evans did reach the South Pole on January 17th, but tragically all five men would perish on their return journey. Crean and Lashly had somehow struggled to drag Edward Evans, who was dying from scurvy, to within 35 miles of Hut Point, before Crean embarked on his epic solo march, to raise rescue and save the Lieutenants life.
Crean was of course upset and possibly even angered by Scott’s decision not to include him for the final push, but true to his nature he accepted his orders, and the men parted company on good terms. High on the frigid, wind swept Polar Plateau, they two groups exchanged best wishes and handshakes, and went their separate ways. Crean, Lashly and Evans, watched their five comrades trudge southwards, and eventually disappear into the seemingly infinite whiteness, never to be seen alive again.
“An excellent man, tall with a profile like the Duke of Wellington, universally liked.”
Sir Clements Markham on Tom Crean.
Tom Crean’s Service With Captain Scott
1901 10 December Discovery Expedition
1906 18 September HMS Victorious
1907 1 January HMS Albermarle
1908 29 January HMS Essex
1908 30 May HMS Bulwark
1910 14 April Terra Nova Expedition
Tom Crean – An Illustrated Life by Michael Smith