W. Perce Blackborow
Shackleton's Stowaway, Victoria McKernan for ages
12 and up
Steward (stow away)
The Endurance Expedition
Perce Blackborow (often given an extra "r" as in
Blackborrow) is one of the more interesting
and colorful members of the expedition in that he never should have
been on board the Endurance in the first place and was a stowaway -
possible the only one ever on an Antarctic expedition.
In 1914 he found himself far from home in Buenos
Aires without a ship. He met and befriended an American sailor,
William Bakewell who was in the same situation. When the Endurance
sailed into port and three of the crew were sacked, the two men
thought their problems were solved, they both applied for positions
on board. Shackleton interviewed them both and Bakewell was accepted
where Blackborow was not due to his age (he was only 19 at the time)
and lack of seamanship.
He was smuggled on board with the help of Bakewell
and How and hidden in a locker where his two friends would take food
for him on a regular basis. He was eventually discovered when the
Endurance was three days out of South Georgia, Shackleton was
unhappy at him being there, but realised he had no choice and
offered him a position of steward with the proviso
"If anyone has to be eaten, then you will be
Blackborow was quiet, stocky, quick witted and
well liked, he also came to prove himself however as a very conscientiousness
On the boat journey from where the Endurance sank to
Elephant Island, Blackborow made the mistake of wearing leather
rather than the cold-weather felt boots that the other men wore and
as a result developed frost-bite in his toes that then turned
gangrenous. Shackleton realised that Blackborow was suffering on
this journey and gave him the honour of being the first person to
set foot upon Elephant Island (not just from the Endurance crew, but
ever - no-one had landed there before). When they arrived, he was
unable to walk ashore and had to crawl through the surf.
Shortly afterwards, he had all of the toes on his
left foot amputated by the surgeons Macklin and McIllroy.
"Potash and Perlmutter"
Perce Blackborow became assistant to Green the
expedition cook, in the galley, first aboard ship and
on the ice, working the longest days of any on the expedition on
a regular basis, from early morning till evening, preparing meals
for 28 hungry men.
When on the ice, they cooked on a stove that was
heated by burning seal or penguin blubber, a very smoky fuel which
gave them permanently blackened faces and earned them the nicknames
of "Potash and Perlmutter".
I am unable to find out why these names were
given. "Potash and Perlmutter" were a series of stories written by
Montague Glass, in the early 1900's about a pair of
Jewish tailors, they became a series of comedies, initially stage
plays and then from the mid 1920's films by MGM - any insights
appreciated. My guess is that the names for given for their
characteristics, rather than appearance. - webmaster
Perce Blackborow was born in Newport, South Wales,
the son of a ship's steward.
On return from the Antarctic, Blackborow spent
three months in a hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile, recovering from
the frostbite damage sustained to his left foot. On return home to
South Wales, he was somewhat overwhelmed by the welcome party
awaiting him at his local railway station and instead, crossed the
tracks and went out of the other side of the station.
He volunteered for war service in the Royal Navy,
but was turned down due to the amputation of the toes of his left
foot. He was accepted by the Merchant Navy where he served until
1919 after which he became a boatman in the local docks in Newport.
He married a local girl Kate Kearns and they lived in Newport
producing six children, unfortunately two of them died in childhood.
Perhaps more so than any of the other expedition
members, Blackborow was moulded by his experiences as he was so
young at the time, the youngest on board by over two years.
The friendship with Walter How and William
Bakewell who smuggled him aboard the Endurance lasted long after the
men had returned. Even after Blackborow's death, Bakewell who had
come over from Canada made a visit to Wales to meet his family.
Perce Blackborow died at home in Newport, of
Chronic Bronchitis and Heart disease at the age of 54.
Perce Blackborow in Shackleton's book "South!"
The Stancomb Wills came up and
McIlroy reported that
Blackborrow's feet were very badly frost-bitten.
This was unfortunate, but nothing could be done. Most of
the people were frost-bitten to some extent, and it was
interesting to notice that the "oldtimers," Wild, Crean,
Hurley, and I, were all right. Apparently we were
acclimatized to ordinary Antarctic temperature, though
we learned later that we were not immune.
Clark, Robert S.
Green, Charles J.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.