Thomas Crean (1877-1938)
- Biographical notes
Tom Crean served both Scott and Shackleton and outlived them both.
Tom Crean 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.
He was what is often described as "hardbitten" tough, and determined, he had been disrated in the Navy for drunken and inappropriate behaviour and had a less than satisfactory character reference, this happened just before he joined the Discovery expedition with Scott, the first of three journeys he would make to Antarctica.. He frequently came across as heavy handed and tactless - forthright - to be more charitable.
Crean joined Scott's Discovery expedition when he was in Christchurch, New Zealand in December 1901 serving aboard HMS Ringarooma, the Discovery was also in port and in need of an extra crewmember, he left his own ship to join as a volunteer able seaman. He gained a reputation for being one of the most effective man-haulers in the party and was well liked and respected by the other men. Crean returned to naval duty after the expedition and was promoted to Petty Officer 1st class following Scott's recommendation. Following the Discovery expedition, Scott requested that Crean should join him in serving on his ship and for the next few years, the two served together on a number of vessels.
Terra Nova Expedition
Crean was one of the men Scott chose first for the Terra Nova expedition, he was appointed as an expert sledger and pony handler, he was also one of the few men on the expedition with previous polar experience. Crean was very actively involved in sledging journeys as might be expected, on one occasion he was caught out camping on sea ice that broke out in the night with Cherry-Garrard and Bowers, they were separated from their sledges, Crean jumped from floe to floe and was able to summon help.
He was a part of the last group to be turned back 160 miles from the pole by Scott after not being selected for the final Pole Party, He set off back with Lashly and Edward Evans, a 730 mile journey. They lost their way at one point and with food supplies low and a long detour around an icefall the safest route, instead decided to sledge uncontrolled down the steep icefall, reaching what Evans estimated at 60mph at times, they stopped by overturning the sledge.
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. Scott described him as weeping with disappointment at having to turn back so close to the goal.
Evans developed snow blindness after removing his snow goggles while trying to find the route and began to show signs of scurvy, he was greatly weakened, was passing blood and was in constant pain, Crean and Lashly began pulling him on the sledge. On the 18th of February, there was still 35 miles to go and 4-5 days manhauling with just 1-2 days of rations left, they decided that Lashly would stay with Evans while Crean would fetch help. With a little food and no tent or other equipment Crean walked for 18 hours until he met with Atkinson, Gerov at Hut Point. He arrived just before a blizzard struck which would almost have certainly have killed him had he been caught it, as it was he was on the verge of collapse on arrival. Evans who was close to death and Lashly were successfully rescued by the use of a dog team, Crean played down his part but wrote in a letter:
"So it fell to my lot to do the 30 miles for help, and only a couple of biscuits and a stick of chocolate to do it. Well, sir, I was very weak when I reached the hut".
The winter of 1912 was passed in a very sombre atmosphere, the Polar Party had not returned and it was assumed they had perished in the attempt. Crean was one of the last men to see Scott and the pole party alive and he was one of those who found their final camp in November of that year and buried them in the snow.
On return to England Crean was awarded promotion and the Polar and Albert medals for his part in the expedition and for saving Evans' life.
The Endurance Expedition
On return from the Terra Nova expedition, Crean 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 as second officer. 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 and like Shackleton, Crean would not 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.
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.
After his Antarctic adventures, he returned to England and 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. Crean served in the Royal Navy aboard HMS Colleen in the First World War, shortly after the war ended, he 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 he 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.
He never spoke of his Antarctic exploits to his family, in the words of his daughter:
"He put his medals and his sword in a box ... and that was that. He was a very humble man".
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.
25 February 1877 - 27 July 1938
I was out sledging today with Tom Crean. He had only five dogs and with a full load of 16 gallons of petrol besides the two passengers the pace was anything but thrilling.
Tom Crean is a fine character, one of the most reliable men on the expedition. As his name suggests, he is an Irishman and a giant at that. He started as an ordinary sailor in the navy and was in Scott's expedition when by walking 30 miles alone to fetch help, and thereby saving the life of commander Evans dangerously ill with scurvy, he gained the Albert Medal for conspicuous bravery. His staunch loyalty to the expedition is worth a lot.
Captain Worsley in the Dudley Docker, too stuck to his post gallantly hour by hour, steering his boat skillfully to safety, sitting up in the stern wet through to the skin. Lt. Hudson and Crean, who steered the Stancomb Wills alternately, are likewise deserving of the highest praise.
In bringing in one load, Crean went through the ice up to his neck. These frequent immersions no doubt seem to be a very serious matter to people who have no available change of clothes, but one comes to take them as a matter of course, and after all the water can never be below 28deg. It is the drying of the clothes on one's body that is fraught with discomfort.
- The training of dogs has commenced - soon their services
will relieve us of a great deal of not unpleasant work in
bringing in distant seals. Wild, Marston, Crean,
, Macklin, McIlroy and Hurley are the dog men: none of them
has any preliminary experience to speak of, but this does
not seem at all essential.
- 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 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
- 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
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
- 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 CreanFeature Name: Crean Glacier
Feature Type: glacier
Latitude: 54 08S
Longitude: 037 01W
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
Latitude: 77 53S
Longitude: 159 30E
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.
Picture credit: South Pole Inn, Nigel Cox, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
Other Crew of the Endurance Expedition
William - Able Seaman
Blackborow, Percy - Stowaway (later steward)
Cheetham, Alfred - Third Officer
Clark, Robert S. - Biologist
Crean, Thomas - Second Officer
Green, Charles J. - Cook
Greenstreet, Lionel - First Officer
Holness, Ernest - Fireman/stoker
How, Walter E. - Able Seaman
Hudson, Hubert T. - Navigator
Hurley, James Francis (Frank) - Official Photographer
Hussey, Leonard D. A. - Meteorologist
James, Reginald W. - Physicist
Kerr, A. J. - Second Engineer
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/stoker
Vincent, John - Able Seaman
Wild, Frank - Second in Command
Wordie, James M. - Geologist
Worsley, Frank - Captain
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Ernest Shackleton Books and Video
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage - DVD
Kenneth Branagh (2002) - DVD
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization - DVD
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage - DVD
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface) - Book
South with Endurance: Frank Hurley - official photographer
South! Ernest Shackleton Shackleton's own words
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley
biography by Roland
The Quest for Frank Wild, biography by Angie Butler
The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander