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Perce Blackborow (1894-1949) - Biographical notes

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Shackleton's Stowaway, Victoria McKernan for ages 12 and up

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W. Perce Blackborow

Steward (stow away) Endurance 1914-17

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 the first!".

Blackborow was quiet, stocky, quick witted and well liked, he also came to prove himself however as a very conscientiousness sailor.

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.

References to Perce Blackborow in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

  • 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.



Bakewell, William
Able Seaman

Blackborow, Percy
Steward (stowaway)

Cheetham, Alfred
Third Officer

Clark, Robert S.

Crean, Thomas
Second Officer

Green, Charles J.

Greenstreet, Lionel
First Officer

Holness, Ernest

How, Walter E.
Able Seaman

Hudson, Hubert T.

Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Official Photographer

Hussey, Leonard D. A.

James, Reginald W.

Kerr, A. J.
Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.

Marston, George E.
Official Artist

McCarthy, Timothy
Able Seaman

McIlroy, Dr. James A.

McLeod, Thomas
Able Seaman

McNish, Henry

Orde-Lees, Thomas
Motor Expert and Storekeeper

Rickinson, Lewis
First Engineer

Shackleton, Ernest H.
Expedition Leader

Stephenson, William

Vincent, John
Able Seaman

Wild, Frank
Second in Command

Wordie, James M.

Worsley, Frank

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?
Recommended Books DVD's and VHS

Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface)
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South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer
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Free world delivery

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words
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Free world delivery
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley
Buy USA  Buy UK
Free world delivery

biography by Roland
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

The Quest for Frank Wild
biography by Angie Butler
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The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander
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Free world delivery

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat
Buy USA   Buy UK
Free world delivery

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel
   Buy UK
Free world delivery
Tom Crean an Illustrated Life: Unsung Hero of the Scott & Shackleton Expeditions
Tom Crean: Unsung Hero
biography by Michael Smith

Buy USA  Buy UK
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Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World -
Jennifer Armstrong
for ages 12 and up
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Movies / Documentaries
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002)
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Shackleton's 1914-17 Trans-Antarctica Expedition on Twitter - follow us now to get the story 100 years to the day later.  @danthewhaler

Free Delivery on all Books at the Book Depository

Lonely Planet travel guide Antarctica
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Frozen Planet
Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition
Dramatization with original footage

Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

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