On This Day – May 21st 1916

The Rescue of McCarthy, Vincent & McNish.

The Endurance Expedition – South Georgia.

Crean, Shackleton & Worsley at Stromness.

Crean, Shackleton & Worsley at Stromness

Having only arrived in Stromness earlier that afternoon, after the perilous crossing of South Georgia’s jagged, ice covered interior, Frank Worsley agreed to accompany the relief mission to pick up the three men stranded on the other side of the island. Harry McNish and John Vincent were in a desperate condition after the voyage of the James Caird. Shackleton had left them in the care of Cork man Timothy McCarthy, whilst he, Tom Crean and the New Zealander, Frank Worsley left Peggotty Camp to cross South Georgia’s uncharted interior, to reach Stromness whaling station.
Peggotty Camp had been named so by the men, after the family in the Charles Dickens novel, David Copperfield, who had made their home from a beached boat. Like their comrades back on Elephant Island, Shackleton and his men, having landed at what is today known as Peggotty Bluff, decided to use their upturned lifeboat as an improvised shelter.

Once the three men had reached Stromness, and identified themselves to the manager, Mr. Sorlle, their immediate attention turned to the rescue of McCarthy, Vincent and McNish. Sorlle, who at first, did not recognise any of the men, despite the fact that they had stopped over in Stromness, before departing for Antarctica in December 1914, immediately began readying a whaling vessel, for the task.
Meanwhile the men washed.

“Soon we were clean again. Then we put on delightful new clothes supplied from the station stores and got rid of our superfluous hair. Within an hour or two we had ceased to be savages and had become civilized men again. Then came a splendid meal, while Mr. Sorlle told us of the arrangements he had made and we discussed plans for the rescue of the main party on Elephant Island.”

Sir Ernest Shackleton – Quoted from “South”.

Worsley, being the expert navigator, as proven irrefutably, on the James Caird voyage, was the obvious choice to accompany the rescuers, and pinpoint the exact location of Peggotty Camp to the whalers.
The ship pulled out of Stromness at 10 pm, and Worsley promptly turned in for the night, for some well earned and much needed rest.

Meanwhile Shackleton and Crean would spend the night as guests of Mr. Sorlle, who’s hospitality they were eternally grateful for.

“Our first night at the whaling-station was blissful. Crean and I shared a beautiful room in Mr. Sorlle’s house, with electric light and two beds, warm and soft. We were so comfortable that we were unable to sleep. Late at night a steward brought us tea, bread and butter and cakes, and we lay in bed, revelling in the luxury of it all. Outside a dense snow-storm, which started two hours after our arrival and lasted until the following day, was swirling and driving about the mountain-slopes. We were thankful indeed that we had made a place of safety, for it would have gone hard with us if we had been out on the mountains that night. Deep snow lay everywhere when we got up the following morning.”

Sir Ernest Shackleton – Quoted from “South”.

The ship arrived in King Haakon Bay the following day, and Worsley reached the men at Peggotty Camp by boat shortly afterwards. McCarthy, Vincent and McNish emerged from beneath their makeshift camp and were elated, on realising that their three companions had safely traversed the island, and that rescue was at hand.

Then the men quizzed Worsley as to why none of their comrades had returned with the relief effort, to fetch them. A bemused Worsley asked them what they meant, and they replied that they had been certain at least one of the three men would have travelled with the whalers. Completely mystified, Worsley demanded “What’s the matter with you?” and suddenly they recognised that the clean shaven and groomed man that stood before them was indeed Frank Worsley, and not one of the whalers as they had assumed. One can only imagine the seismic alteration in Worsley’s appearance, when men he had spent almost a year and half in close confinement with, did not recognise him after a two day absence.

King Haakon Bay in South Georgia Island

“King Haakon Bay in South Georgia Island”

Image: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

With the identity crisis over, the group gathered up what few belongings they had, and they towed the James Caird to the ship where it was hoisted aboard. The boat had already been granted relic status by the Norwegians, who still struggled to comprehend how the six men could have voyaged across the tumultuous Scotia Sea in such a craft.

The relief party and the three rescued men arrived back at Stromness the following afternoon after a stopover at Grytviken Harbour. In their absence Shackleton and Crean had been formulating a relief effort for the 22 men still stranded on Elephant Island. They had also learned of rumours that the expeditions other ship Aurora, which had travelled to Antarctica through the Ross Sea, had returned to New Zealand without its stranded shore party, after it was ripped from its moorings and endured a lengthy drift in the ice floes. The men now had two rescue efforts to ponder.

Upon arriving in Stromness one of Shackleton’s first questions for Mr. Sorlle, was to inquire as to when the war had ended. Their surprise upon learning that the conflict was very much ongoing, soon turned to horror as they learnt of the enormous scale of bloodshed and destruction that had engulfed Europe, since their departure. The world they had clamoured for so long to return to, had changed utterly in their absence, and the prospect of returning there must have seemed at least as forbidding as where they had come from.

On This Day – May 20th 1916 – Tom Crean
On This Day – May 19th 1916 – Tom Crean
On This Day – May 10th 1916 – Tom Crean
On This Day April 24 1916 – The Voyage of the James Caird

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