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
He did however openly
side with McNish on the ice when McNish questioned Shackleton's
authority to give orders once the Endurance had been
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 members.
Kerr, A. J.
Dr. Alexander H.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Second in Command
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
He developed Pneumonia
at sea and died in the Naval Hospital, Grimsbyon
Sunday 19th January 1941 at the age of 61.
John Vincent 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,
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 after
- McCarthy, McNeish,
had been landed on the Monday afternoon. They
were already showing some signs of increasing
strength under a regime of warm quarters and
Landmarks named after John
Feature Name: 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 period 1951-57. Named by the UK-APC.