Dr. James Archibald McIlroy
James F. (Frank)
Leonard D. A.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Quest - Ernest Shackleton 1921 - 1922
was a life-long ship's surgeon and life-long bachelor.
was suffering from malaria at the time contracted
in the far east, and shook constantly through the
interview with Shackleton who became suspicious
and insisted that McIlroy had a medical examination.
This was duly carried out by a doctor friend of
McIlroys and he was declared fit. What he didn't
know at the time is that he was the only applicant
for the position of second doctor, and so was given
the first doctor, McIlroy also had the job of driving
a team of sled dogs and caring for the expeditions dogs.
Most surgeons and doctors on Antarctic expeditions had
little of a medical nature to deal with most of the
time, but once on Elephant Island, Macklin and McIlroy,
had much to attend to. Rickinson had a heart condition,
Blackborow had gangrene in his toes several of which
were amputated (by McIlroy), Hudson was having a
nervous breakdown and suffered an infected boil. There
were many other cases of frostbite, dysentery, boils,
sores etc. that meant that both surgeons were best left
on Elephant Island rather than accompanying Shackleton
to South Georgia.
a particular party piece which helped raise the morale
of the men in that he accompanied Hussey on his banjo
by providing musical imitations, including trombone
and bagpipes! He was regarded as a "man of the
world" by many of the other crew and would entertain
them with numerous tales of past conquests.
Born in Ulster,
Ireland, his parents moved to England and settled
at Kings Norton, Birmingham. His father was a shop
keeper (also called James McIlroy) and sent the
younger James to a nearby grammar school. After
school James took an office job, but soon decided
this was not what he wanted to continue to do and
so enrolled at Birmingham University for a medical
degree. On graduation, he took up position as House
Surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.
Again it seems
that being settled didn't suit McIlroy and so
he decided to put his medical qualification to use
to get around and see other parts of the world,
he practised for many years in the middle and far
east, in Egypt and Japan and in and around the East
Indies as a medical officer or ships surgeon. In
1914, he was back in England and heard about Shackleton's
expedition from a friend at his London club, Shackleton
already had Macklin as one surgeon and was looking
Back in England
and during the First World War, McIlroy served in
France and was invalided out of the army after being
badly wounded at Ypres. After the war, he joined
the P&O shipping line as Chief Surgeon.
Just a small correction
to the biography of Dr. James McIlroy who was my
the end of the First World War and the "Quest"
expedition, my great-uncle farmed with his friend
Frank Wild - Shackleton's second-in-command
- , and for a short time another Antarctic explorer
by the name of Bickerton, in British Nyasaland in
the neighbourhood of Lake Nyasa. They cleared the
then virgin forest and planted cotton. They both
loved the life though suffering intermittently from
bouts of malaria. According to Frank Wild, in a
letter written in 1920 to his cousin Margaret, they "would
have been there still if Shackleton had not called
for us to come on this expedition". They had
the full intention to return to their farm in Africa
after the expedition; whether they did or not, I
do not know.
Yours sincerely, Rhona Schmitz
Like many of the
Endurance crew, he was asked again by Shackleton
to join the Quest expedition, which he did originally
intending only to stay as far as Madeira, though
he remained with the ship and carried on South.
With Leonard Hussey,
McIlroy contributed an appendix on meteorology to
Frank Wild's account of the Quest expedition, "Shackleton's
On return from
the south he rejoined P&O until he had to retire
due to his age at which point he joined another
cruise company the Clan Line. As late as 1957 at
the age of 78, McIlroy was still working as a ships
surgeon, he never married and died at the age of
88 in Surrey on the 30th of July 1968.
In World War Two
he almost lost his life when his ship, S.S. Oronsay
was torpedoed and sunk off West Africa. Most of
the crew were picked up quickly, but McIlroy and
others drifted for five days in an open boat before
being picked up and landed at Dakar, Senegal.
for your mail re Dr. James McIlroy. I think
the best thing to do is send you a
copy of the letter from Frank Wild to his cousin
Margaret. This is a copy of the part of
the original letter which was in the possession
of my late aunt, Mrs. Sheila Birks. It was
sent to her many years ago by a lady named Maureen
(surname unknown), who at that time was working
for the Shackleton Society?, Antarctic Society?,
and had been in touch with my aunt for some time.
After retirement from his post as Chief Surgeon
of the P&O Line, Dr. McIlroy went to live for
some time in Aberystwyth with my aunt and her mother,
Ruby (my grandmother), Dr. McIlroy's twin sister.
As stated in his biography, life ashore was not
for him, and some time later (after giving a false
date of birth) he went to sea again with the Clan
Line - a merchant shipping company. It must
have been rather boring as they used to sit outside
Mombasa for weeks on end, waiting to unload.
By the way, my aunt had to bully him to go to the
Endurance re-union (1960's?). He did not
want to go at all, but thoroughly enjoyed it once
having got there.
I am almost certain that
Uncle Jim only joined the P&O Line after the
Quest Expedition, but whether immediately after
or not, I do not know. It surprises me to
learn that he only intended to go as far as Madeira
with the Quest: why ever would he leave the farm
in Africa just for that? Your details about
the torpedoing of the Oronsay are correct, and subsequently
he was a prisoner-of-war in Timbuktu (which always
made us laugh, as it was a funny name in those days).
Uncle Jim also sailed round the world with Prince
Louis of Battenberg, as his personal doctor.
My great-aunt Effie (his sister Euphemia), who lived
with us for many years, possessed a gold watch which
had been presented to him in remembrance by Prince
Louis (who was married to a daughter of Queen Victoria,
and later anglicized his name to Mountbatten).
As you say, he never married, but he was a great
ladies' man, and was well-known in the family
for having a "wife in every port".
The portrayal of him in the Kenneth Branagh film
was very true to life - it is exactly how I remember
him to have been.
I hope you have fun reading
the enclosure, but it makes one blush nowadays to
read the colonialist's view of things.
Wild's estimates of the costs are amazing.
It all sounds like a Boys' Book of Adventure
Stories: which well sums up the life of my great-uncle.
Yours sincerely, Rhona Schmitz
published here by the kind permission of Rhona Schmitz
- great niece of Dr. James McIlroy
References to James
McIlroy in Shackleton's book "South!"
- The quarters in the 'tween
decks were completed by the 10th, and the men
took possession of the cubicles that had been
built. The largest cubicle contained Macklin,
and Hussey and it was named "The Billabong."
dogs had been divided into six teams of nine
dogs each. Wild, Crean, Macklin,
and Hurley each had charge of a team, and were
fully responsible for the exercising, training,
and feeding of their own dogs.
arose, as might have been expected, and on the
15th of the month a great race, the "Antarctic
Derby," took place. It was a notable event.
The betting had been heavy, and every man aboard
the ship stood to win or lose on the result
of the contest. Some money had been staked,
but the wagers that thrilled were those involving
stores of chocolate and cigarettes. The course
had been laid off from Khyber Pass, at the eastern
end of the old lead ahead of the ship, to a
point clear of the jib-boom, a distance of about
700 yds. Five teams went out in the dim noon
twilight, with a zero temperature and an aurora
flickering faintly to the southward. The starting
signal was to be given by the flashing of a
light on the meteorological station. 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 neck—6
to 4 on Wild, "evens" on Crean, 2
to 1 against Hurley, 6 to 1 against
Macklin, and 8
to 1 against McIlroy.
Canvas handkerchiefs fluttered from an improvised
grand stand, and the pups, which had never seen
such strange happenings before, sat round and
howled with excitement. The spectators could
not see far in the dim light, but they heard
the shouts of the drivers as the teams approached
and greeted the victory of the favourite with
a roar of cheering that must have sounded strange
indeed to any seals or penguins that happened
to be in our neighbourhood. Wild's time was
2 min. 16 sec., or at the rate of 10½ miles
per hour for the course.
seals were killed to-day. Wild and
McIlroy, who went
out to secure them, had rather an exciting time
on some very loose, rotten ice, three killer-whales
in a lead a few yards away poking up their ugly
heads as if in anticipation of a feast.
Stancomb Wills came up and
that Blackborow'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.
- We were
labouring at the boats when I noticed Rickenson
turn white and stagger in the surf. I pulled
him out of reach of the water and sent him up
to the stove, which had been placed in the shelter
of some rocks. McIlroy
went to him and found that his heart had been
temporarily unequal to the strain placed upon
it. He was in a bad way and needed prompt medical
attention. There are some men who will do more
than their share of work and who will attempt
more than they are physically able to accomplish.
Rickenson was one of these eager souls. He was
suffering, like many other members of the Expedition,
from bad salt-water boils. Our wrists, arms,
and legs were attacked. Apparently this infliction
was due to constant soaking with sea-water,
the chafing of wet clothes, and exposure.
- I called
the men together, explained my plan, and asked
for volunteers. Many came forward at once. Some
were not fit enough for the work that would
have to be done, and others would not have been
much use in the boat since they were not seasoned
sailors, though the experiences of recent months
entitled them to some consideration as seafaring
men. McIlroy and
Macklin were both anxious to go but realized
that their duty lay on the island with the sick
- On the
following day Wild, Hurley, Macklin, and
McIlroy took their
teams to the Stained Berg, about seven miles
west of the ship, and on their way back got
a female crab-eater, which they killed, skinned,
and left to be picked up later. They ascended
to the top of the berg, which lay in about lat.
69° 30´ S., long. 51° W., and from an
elevation of 110 ft. could see no land.
fierce gale was blowing on April 22, interfering
with our preparations for the voyage. The cooker
from No. 5 tent came adrift in a gust, and,
although it was chased to the water's edge,
it disappeared for good. Blackborow's feet
were giving him much pain, and
McIlroy and Macklin
thought it would be necessary for them to operate
soon. They were under the impression then that
they had no chloroform, but they found some
subsequently in the medicine-chest after we
centre of the hut is filled with the cases which
do duty for the cook's bed, the meat and
blubber boxes, and a mummified-looking object,
which is Lees in his sleeping-bag. The near
end of the floor space is taken up with the
stove, with Wild and McIlroy
on one side, and Hurley and James on the other.
Marston occupies a hammock most of the night—and
day—which is slung across the entrance. As he
is large and the entrance very small, he invariably
gets bumped by those passing in and out. His
vocabulary at such times is interesting.
- A census
was taken, each man being asked to state just
what he would like to eat at that moment if
he were allowed to have anything that he wanted.
All, with but one exception, desired a suet
pudding of some sort—the "duff" beloved
of sailors. Macklin asked for many returns of
scrambled eggs on hot buttered toast. Several
voted for "a prodigious Devonshire dumpling,"
while Wild wished for "any old dumpling
so long as it was a large one." The craving
for carbohydrates, such as flour and sugar,
and for fats was very real. Marston had with
him a small penny cookery book. From this he
would read out one recipe each night, so as
to make them last. This would be discussed very
seriously, and alterations and improvements
suggested, and then they would turn into their
bags to dream of wonderful meals that they could
never reach. The following conversation was
recorded in one diary:
you like doughnuts?'
"WILD: ‘Very easily
made, too. I like them cold with a little jam.'
‘Not bad; but how about a huge omelette?'
"WILD: ‘Fine!' (with a deep
after James McIlroy
Feature Type: summit
A peak rising to 745 m
W of Husvik Harbor and 0.8 mi S of Mount Barren,
South Georgia. Named by the UK-APC in 1990.
- 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