28 Aug 2016

28 Aug 16 - Tom Crean (Antarctic Explorer)

After first hearing the story of Shackleton's 1914-17 Antarctic Expedition, Earnest Shackleton became my all time explorer & survival hero. Shackleton's first expedition to the Antarctic was as Third Officer on Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1901-04. He marched with Scott & Edward Wilson to a new record of 82 degrees South.
Window celebrating the Discovery Expedition: South Pole Pub, Annascaul. I remember visiting the Discovery when she was tied up on the Thames when I was a kid. She is now berthed in Dundee having been saved for the nation
Shackleton returned to the Antarctic when he led the British Antarctic Ninrod Expedition of 1907-09. He reached 88 degrees South & his team were only 97 miles away from the South Pole before being forced to turn back. In 1911, Roald Amundsen successfully reached the South Pole, followed five weeks later by Scott's team on the Terra Nova Expedition of 1911-13. Sadly, Scott & his four companions all died on their return after reaching the South Pole.
Window celebrating the Terra Nova Expedition: South Pole Pub, Annascaul
With the South Pole reached, Shackleton & his crew of twenty-seven sailed again on the Endurance on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in August 1914. The aim was to be the first expedition to successfully cross the Antarctic continent. Due to heavier than expected sea ice, the Endurance was trapped short of her destination & was frozen in over the winter.
Shackleton's famous advert for crew: South Pole Pub, Annascaul
After eight months of being trapped, the pressure of the ice finally cracked the hull & water started to pour in. The crew were forced to abandon the ship & set up a base on the ice. After the ship sank a few weeks later, Shackleton & the crew spent two months on a large ice floe, hoping it would drift towards Paulet Island, 250 miles away where they knew stores were cached. After another couple of months, they transferred to another ice floe for another couple of months. This floe drifted to within 60 miles of Paulet Island, but they were stopped by impassable ice. The floe broke in half in April 1916 & Shackleton ordered the men to take to the three lifeboats & take to the open seas. They reached the uninhabited Elephant Island after five days at sea.
Window celebrating the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the Endurance: Showing one of ship photographer Frank Hurley's superb photos of the Endurance, South Pole Pub, Annascaul
Ten days later, Shackleton along with Captain Frank Worsley, Second Officer Tom Crean, John sailors John Vincent & Timothy McCarthy & carpenter Harry McNish, set off in the James Caird, the strongest of the lifeboats, to sail the 830 miles to South Georgia. After fifteen days, thanks to the navigational skills of Worsley they sighted the Southern side of South Georgia. But hurricane force winds stopped them landing for another day. They landed on the unoccupied Southern side of the island. It was a further thirty two miles across the island & it took nearly two days for Shackleton, Worsley & Crean to cross the snow covered mountains, before they finally made it to the isolated whaling station at Stromness. Shackleton, Worsley & Crean entered the history books in a tale of epic survival.
Tom Crean's status: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
A boat was immediately dispatched to rescue Vincent, McCarthy & McNish. It was to be a longer wait for the remaining men stranded on Elephant Island & it took Shackleton three attempts over four months before they were finally rescued on 30 Aug 1916 on a Chilean boat. The whole story sounds more like the imagination of a Hollywood film than reality (although Hollywood would probably add Kate Winslet as ship's nurse & thrown in a Great White Shark attack tearing a boat in half in their usual crassness). Shackleton returned to Chile without losing any of his crew: an amazing feat. Many of his crew joined up to flight in the First World War. Timothy McCathy & Third Officer Alfred Cheetham both lost their lives at sea after being torpedoed on different ships before the end of the war.
Tom Crean's status: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
Tom Crean's status with two of the sled dog puppies: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had a second ship, the Aurora which had sailed at the same time as Shackleton to lay out food depots along the second half of Shackleton's intended cross polar route. While ten of the men, including the expedition leader, Aeneas Mackintosh, were on the ice laying out the depots, the Aurora broke free of her moorings in a storm. She was unable to return after the storm due to the ice conditions. Later she became trapped in ice & drifted well away from where the men were on the ice. After a year, she finally escaped the ice and was forced to return to New Zealand. On reaching Chile & hearing the news, Shackleton left for New Zealand, where he managed to arrange a rescue expedition for the ten stranded men on the Aurora. He rescued seven of the ten men originally stranded on the ice. Unfortunately, three (including Mackintosh) had died while being stranded on the ice.
Stone from near to Shackleton's Grave: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
Memorial plaque: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
For those of you who have got this far into this story will perhaps be wondering why I've chosen to tell this story when the last couple of Posts have been about the Royal Tern twitch. Well by chance, my B&B on the night of seeing the Royal Tern was in Annascaul, which was Tom Crean birth place. He was an Able Seaman on Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1901-04. He returned to the Antarctic with Scott as a Petty Officer on the Terra Nova Expedition 1911-13. That wasn't enough for him & he sailed for the final time with Shackleton as Second Officer. Having made it home to Ireland, he spend a few more years in the navy, before returning to Annascaul & opening a pub called the South Pole pub. He ran the pub until his death in 1938 at the age of 61.
The South Pole Pub, Annascaul: Having read a bit more about the life of Tom Crean, I will have to make a return visit to Annascaul when there is an future excuse to head over to Ireland