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Thomas Crean (1877-1938) - Biographical notes

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Tom Crean with puppies Roger, Nell, Toby and Nelson
Endurance expedition


Tom Crean on the Endurance, 1914


Tom Crean (right) with Alf Cheetham, on the Endurance, 1914

Thomas Crean

Tom Crean served both Scott and Shackleton and outlived them both.

He was what is often described as "hardbitten" tough, and determined, he had been disrated in the Navy for drunken and inappropriate behaviour for his station and had a less than satisfactory character reference from the Navy. He frequently came across as heavy handed and tactless - forthright - to be more charitable.

His first encounter with Antarctic exploration came with Scott's expedition on the Terra Nova and was a somewhat opportunistic accident. Crean was in Christchurch, New Zealand serving aboard HMS Ringarooma when Scott's "Discovery" was also in port and was in need of an extra crewmember. It was December 1901 and Tom left his own ship to join as a volunteer able seaman. He played a full role in activities ashore including several sledging journey's.

Scott was impressed with Crean's performance, he was promoted to Petty Officer 1st class on his return. Five years later, when Scott was assembling a crew for what was to become his last expedition aboard the Terra Nova, Crean was one of the men he chose first and was appointed as an expert sledger and pony handler.

Tom Crean had thought that he might have been chosen as one of Scott's party to make the final push to the South Pole, but was overlooked in favour of Bowers, a great disappointment to him. As it was, Crean was one of the last men to Scott alive and he was one of those who buried him and his companions in the snow a month later. He accompanied the polar party up the Beardmore Glacier, on the return journey he walked the last difficult 35 miles alone for 20 hours in appalling conditions to get help for a companion (Teddy Evans). For this life saving feat he was awarded the Albert Medal on return to England.

On return from the Terra Nova expedition, he resumed his Naval duties at Chatham, Kent until Shackleton began to recruit for his attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica from coast to coast via the South Pole. Shackleton knew Crean from the Discovery expedition and had no hesitation in taking him south with the expedition. He selected Crean to be one of the party of 6 to make the crossing, it looked like Crean was going to have a chance to reach the pole after all after his disappointment at not being selected by Scott.

The crossing was never to be however, in fact, like Shackleton, Crean was not to even set foot on Antarctica again. The Endurance was trapped in sea-ice and sank leading to the crew needing to reach safety which they did so partly when they arrived at Elephant Island. Crean was one of the men Shackleton selected for the epic boat journey to South Georgia and also to accompany him and Worsley across South Georgia to the whaling station from where the alarm could raised and help begun to be organized for the men trapped on Elephant Island.


Tom Crean and the pony "Bones", just before his 400 mile march
across the Great Ice Barrier.
Scott's Terra Nova Expedition 1910-13

Biography

Tom was one of ten children, he was born on the family farm at Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland. Life was hard and so Tom joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15, by the age of 22 in 1899, he had worked his way up to the rank of Petty Officer.

Once again on his return to England, Crean resumed his naval career at Chatham. He married Nell Herlihy in 1917 back in his home town of Anascaul, Nell had been his childhood sweetheart, though they were aged 40 and 36 by the time they married. For the rest of the First World War, Crean served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Colleen. Shortly after the war ended, Crean was given early retirement at the age of just 42 in 1920 following a bad fall on his ship.

Shackleton wanted Crean to return to Antarctica with him once again on the Quest expedition, but the offer was declined and Tom settled down to married life and raising his family of four daughters.

In 1927 Tom opened a pub in Annascaul that he called "The South Pole Inn", he ran the pub with Nell until 1938 when after falling ill with stomach pains, he was admitted to hospital in nearby Tralee. Acute appendicitis was diagnosed, but no one was available for the simple routine appendectomy and he was transferred to hospital in Cork 80 miles away. The delay led to infection setting in and he died a week later on 27th July 1938 at the age of 61.

He was interred in a tomb he had built himself in the village of Ballynacourty near where he was born. Almost the entire population of Annascaul turned out to show their respect for one of their most famous sons.

The South Pole Inn is still in business as an inn, it is decorated inside with Shackleton and Crean memorabilia. It can be found in the village of Annascaul, County Kerry on the main road between Tralee & Dingle.

 

 

References to Tom Crean in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

Later in the day Crean and two other men were over the side on a stage chipping at a large piece of ice that had got under the ship and appeared to be impeding her movement. The ice broke away suddenly, shot upward and overturned, pinning Crean between the stage and the haft of the heavy 11-ft. iron pincher. He was in danger for a few moments, but we got him clear, suffering merely from a few bad bruises. The thick iron bar had been bent against him to an angle of 45 degrees.
On February 24 we ceased to observe ship routine, and the Endurance became a winter station. All hands were on duty during the day and slept at night, except a watchman who looked after the dogs and watched for any sign of movement in the ice. We cleared a space of 10 ft. by 20 ft. round the rudder and propeller, sawing through ice 2 ft. thick, and lifting the blocks with a pair of tongs made by the carpenter. Crean used the blocks to make an ice-house for the dog Sally, which had added a little litter of pups to the strength of the expedition.
The new quarters became known as "The Ritz," and meals were served there instead of in the ward room. Breakfast was at 9 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., tea at 4 p.m., and dinner at 6 p.m. Wild, Marston, Crean, and Worsley established themselves in cubicles in the wardroom, and by the middle of the month all hands had settled down to the winter routine.
The dogs had been divided into six teams of nine dogs each. Wild, Crean, Macklin, McIlroy, Marston, and Hurley each had charge of a team, and were fully responsible for the exercising, training, and feeding of their own dogs.
Crean had started to take the pups out for runs, and it was very amusing to see them with their rolling canter just managing to keep abreast by the sledge and occasionally cocking an eye with an appealing look in the hope of being taken aboard for a ride. As an addition to their foster-father, Crean, the pups had adopted Amundsen. They tyrannized over him most unmercifully. It was a common sight to see him, the biggest dog in the pack, sitting out in the cold with an air of philosophic resignation while a corpulent pup occupied the entrance to his "dogloo." The intruder was generally the pup Nelson, who just showed his forepaws and face, and one was fairly sure to find Nelly, Roger, and Toby coiled up comfortably behind him. At hoosh-time Crean had to stand by Amundsen's food, since otherwise the pups would eat the big dog's ration while he stood back to give them fair play. Sometimes their consciences would smite them and they would drag round a seal's head, half a penguin, or a large lump of frozen meat or blubber to Amundsen's kennel for rent. It was interesting to watch the big dog play with them, seizing them by throat or neck in what appeared to be a fierce fashion, while really quite gentle with them, and all the time teaching them how to hold their own in the world and putting them up to all the tricks of dog life.
I was appointed starter, Worsley was judge, and James was timekeeper. The bos'n, with a straw hat added to his usual Antarctic attire, stood on a box near the winning-post, and was assisted by a couple of shady characters to shout the odds, which were displayed on a board hung around his neck6 to 4 on Wild, "evens" on Crean, 2 to 1 against Hurley, 6 to 1 against Macklin, and 8 to 1 against McIlroy.
"This afternoon Sallie's three youngest pups, Sue's Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter's cat, have to be shot. We could not undertake the maintenance of weaklings under the new conditions. Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly. We propose making a short trial journey to-morrow, starting with two of the boats and the ten sledges. The number of dog teams has been increased to seven, Greenstreet taking charge of the new additional team, consisting of Snapper and Sallie's four oldest pups. We have ten working sledges to relay with five teams. Wild's and Hurley's teams will haul the cutter with the assistance of four men. The whaler and the other boats will follow, and the men who are hauling them will be able to help with the cutter at the rough places. We cannot hope to make rapid progress, but each mile counts. Crean this afternoon has a bad attack of snow-blindness."
I had decided to take the James Caird myself, with Wild and eleven men. This was the largest of our boats, and in addition to her human complement she carried the major portion of the stores. Worsley had charge of the Dudley Docker with nine men, and Hudson and Crean were the senior men on the Stancomb Wills.
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.
Four other men would be required, and I decided to call for volunteers, although, as a matter of fact, I pretty well knew which of the people I would select. Crean I proposed to leave on the island as a right-hand man for Wild, but he begged so hard to be allowed to come in the boat that, after consultation with Wild, I promised to take him.
One of the memories that comes to me from those days is of Crean singing at the tiller. He always sang while he was steering, and nobody ever discovered what the song was. It was devoid of tune and as monotonous as the chanting of a Buddhist monk at his prayers; yet somehow it was cheerful. In moments of inspiration Crean would attempt "The Wearing of the Green."
After 1 a.m. we cut a pit in the snow, piled up loose snow around it, and started the Primus again. The hot food gave us another renewal of energy. Worsley and Crean sang their old songs when the Primus was going merrily. Laughter was in our hearts, though not on our parched and cracked lips.
My examination of the country from a higher point had not provided definite information, and after descending I put the situation before Worsley and Crean. Our obvious course lay down a snow-slope in the direction of Husvik. "Boys," I said, "this snow-slope seems to end in a precipice, but perhaps there is no precipice. If we don't go down we shall have to make a detour of at least five miles before we reach level going What shall it be?" They both replied at once, "Try the slope." So we started away again downwards.
To go up again was scarcely thinkable in our utterly wearied condition. The way down was through the waterfall itself. We made fast one end of our rope to a boulder with some difficulty, due to the fact that the rocks had been worn smooth by the running water. Then Worsley and I lowered Crean, who was the heaviest man. He disappeared altogether in the falling water and came out gasping at the bottom.
When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three. I said nothing to my companions on the point, but afterwards Worsley said to me, "Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us." Crean confessed to the same idea. One feels "the dearth of human words, the roughness of mortal speech" in trying to describe things intangible, but a record of our journeys would be incomplete without a reference to a subject very near to our hearts.
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.

Landmarks named after Thomas Crean

Feature Name: Crean Glacier
Feature Type: glacier
Latitude: 5408S
Longitude: 03701W
Description:  Glacier 4 mi long, flowing NW from Wilckens Peaks to the head of Antarctic Bay on the N coast of South Georgia. Surveyed by the SGS in the period 1951-57 and named by the UK-APC. This glacier lies on the route of the overland crossing from King Haakon Bay, to Stromness, South Georgia
.

Feature Name: Mount Crean
Feature Type: summit
Elevation: 2550
Latitude: 7753S
Longitude: 15930E
Description:  Massive, rocky mountain, 2,550 m, forming the central and highest summit of the Lashly Mountains, in Victoria Land. Named by the NZ-APC.

Sailor on Ice:  Tom Crean: with Scott in the Antarctic 1910-1913
Sailor on Ice: Tom Crean: with Scott in the Antarctic 1910-1913
David Hirzel
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Tom Crean: Unsung Hero
biography by Michael Smith

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Tom Crean An Illustrated Life: Unsung Hero of the Scott & Shackleton Expeditions
Tom Crean An Illustrated Life
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The Ice Man:
The Antarctic Adventures of Tom Crean for younger readers

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Tom Crean's Rabbit: A True Story from Scott's Last Voyage
for ages 4-8
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Endurance
Personnel

Summary

Bakewell, William
Able Seaman

Blackborow, Percy
Steward (stowaway)

Cheetham, Alfred
Third Officer

Clark, Robert S.
Biologist

Crean, Thomas
Second Officer

Green, Charles J.
Cook

Greenstreet, Lionel
First Officer

Holness, Ernest
Fireman

How, Walter E.
Able Seaman

Hudson, Hubert T.
Navigator

Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Official Photographer

Hussey, Leonard D. A.
Meteorologist

James, Reginald W.
Physicist

Kerr, A. J.
Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Surgeon

Marston, George E.
Official Artist

McCarthy, Timothy
Able Seaman

McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Surgeon

McLeod, Thomas
Able Seaman

McNish, Henry
Carpenter

Orde-Lees, Thomas
Motor Expert and Storekeeper

Rickinson, Lewis
First Engineer

Shackleton, Ernest H.
Expedition Leader

Stephenson, William
Fireman

Vincent, John
Able Seaman

Wild, Frank
Second in Command

Wordie, James M.
Geologist

Worsley, Frank
Captain

Biographical information - This is a difficult area to research, I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have is gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.
What are the chances that my ancestor was an unsung part of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration?
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