John William Vincent
The Endurance Expedition
Vincent had been a sailor in the Royal Navy and
was a former trawler hand on fishing boats on the North Sea. He was
physically the strongest man aboard, and not beyond bullying his way
around the ship. He began as bosun (boatswain), and seemed to think he could
demonstrate his ability in this post by domination of the other crew
members. There was a blazing row with Orde-Lees and several
of the crew members reported Vincent to Shackleton for his bullying
ways. Shackleton demoted him from boatswain to able seaman and it
seems quite effectively put him in his place as there is little
evidence of repeats of this behaviour after this incident,
Shackleton remarked later how Vincent had "behaved himself" on the
ice and in the boat to Elephant Island. The name "Bosun" however
stuck as a nickname even after he had lost the post.
He did however openly side with McNish on the ice
when McNish questioned Shackleton's authority to give orders once
the Endurance had been lost.
Shackleton picked Vincent as one of the men for
the journey in the James Caird to South Georgia, he was a good
choice for his physical strength, but also Shackleton probably
wanted him where he could keep an eye on him and also wanted him
away from Elephant Island where morale would be difficult enough to
maintain. The journey of the James Caird was particularly difficult
for Vincent though. He lost his upper lip when it became frozen the
edge of a metal cup and his health deteriorated below that of the
other men for reasons that didn't seem quite clear. By the time he
reached South Georgia, he was in a very bad state.
Later on, back in England, Shackleton denied
Vincent the Polar Medal, given to all but 4 of the expedition
John Vincent was born in Birmingham, England in
1879, the exact date is unknown. He ran away to sea at the age of
14, by 1901 at the age of 22, he was serving on board H.M.S.
Cambridge Devonport as a private in the Royal Marines. He became an
experienced seaman also working the North Sea trawlers out of the
port of Hull, in notoriously harsh conditions.
Vincent was a powerful man and had been a keen
amateur boxer and wrestler.
On return to England after the expedition, Vincent
joined the merchant navy and was on a ship torpedoed in the
Mediterranean Sea. After the war he returned back home to Hull
working on trawlers and ships out of there and the neighbouring
ports of Grimsby and Fleetwood. There was a short period where he
worked for the Finnish Government in Finland as a pilot and fishing
instructor, the Finns offered him the job on a permanent basis, but
his wife didn't want to emigrate to Finland. Instead, they settled
in Grimsby where they raised five sons and four daughters. Like many
seafaring men he spent much time away from home and family.
He became captain of the fishing boats he served
on and was known by his shipmates as "Sailor Jack". Almost everyone
who came across him would mention his great physical presence and
strength, though he seems to have been thought of more kindly in
later years than perhaps he was when on the Endurance.
In the Second World War, he enlisted in the Royal
Naval Reserve and was given command of an armed trawler, H.M.Trawler
"Alfredian" operating in the North Sea and East Coast.
He developed Pneumonia at sea and died in the
Naval Hospital, Grimsbyon Sunday 19th January 1941 at the age of 61.
in Shackleton's book "South!"
- The camp I wished to find was one
where the party could live for weeks or even months in
safety, without danger from sea or wind in the heaviest
winter gale. Wild was to proceed westwards along the
coast and was to take with him four of the fittest men,
Marston, Crean, Vincent,
and McCarthy. If he did not return before dark we were
to light a flare, which would serve him as a guide to
the entrance of the channel.
- I finally selected McNeish,
McCarthy, and Vincent in
addition to Worsley and Crean. The crew seemed a strong
one, and as I looked at the men I felt confidence
increasing. The weather was fine on April 23, and
we hurried forward our preparations. It was on this day
I decided finally that the crew for the James Caird
should consist of Worsley, Crean, McNeish, McCarthy,
Vincent, and myself.
- The swell made things difficult. Many
of us got wet to the waist while dragging the boat out—a
serious matter in that climate. When the James Caird was
afloat in the surf she nearly capsized among the rocks
before we could get her clear, and
Vincent and the carpenter, who were on the deck,
were thrown into the water. This was really bad luck,
for the two men would have small chance of drying their
clothes after we had got under way.
- By midday the James Caird was ready
for the voyage. Vincent and
the carpenter had secured some dry clothes by exchange
with members of the shore party (I heard afterwards that
it was a full fortnight before the soaked garments were
finally dried), and the boat's crew was standing by
waiting for the order to cast off.
- The conditions in the boat,
uncomfortable before, had been made worse by the deluge
of water. All our gear was thoroughly wet again. Our
cooking-stove had been floating about in the bottom of
the boat, and portions of our last hoosh seemed to have
permeated everything. Not until 3 a.m., when we were all
chilled almost to the limit of endurance, did we manage
to get the stove alight and make ourselves hot drinks.
The carpenter was suffering particularly, but he showed
grit and spirit. Vincent
had for the past week ceased to be an active member of
the crew, and I could not easily account for his
collapse. Physically he was one of the strongest men in
the boat. He was a young man, he had served on North Sea
trawlers, and he should have been able to bear hardships
better than McCarthy, who, not so strong, was always
- The final stage of the journey had
still to be attempted. I realized that the condition of
the party generally, and particularly of McNeish and
Vincent, would prevent us
putting to sea again except under pressure of dire
necessity. Our boat, moreover, had been weakened by the
cutting away of the topsides, and I doubted if we could
weather the island. We were still 150 miles away from
Stromness whaling-station by sea.
- We turned in early that night, but
sleep did not come to me. My mind was busy with the task
of the following day. The weather was clear and the
outlook for an early start in the morning was good. We
were going to leave a weak party behind us in the camp.
Vincent was still in the
same condition, and he could not march. McNeish was
pretty well broken up. The two men were not capable of
managing for themselves and McCarthy must stay to look
- McCarthy, McNeish, and
Vincent had been landed on
the Monday afternoon. They were already showing some
signs of increasing strength under a regime of warm
quarters and abundant food.
Landmarks named after John Vincent
Feature Type: island
Small group of islands at the head of King Haakon Bay on the S side
of South Georgia. Roughly charted by the British expedition under
Shackleton, 1914-16, and surveyed by the SGS in the
Named by the UK-APC.