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Thomas Frank McLeod (1869-1960) Biographical Notes

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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

Thomas Frank McLeod

Able seaman Terra Nova 1910 - 13

Able seaman Endurance 1914-17

Able Seaman Quest 1921 - 1922

The Endurance Expedition

Thomas McLeod was one of the older and most experienced members of the Endurance crew, having been a sailor for 27 years when enlisted. He had been at sea since he was 14 years old and had already been to the Antarctic with Scott aboard the Terra Nova, and would go on to join Shackleton's Quest expedition also. He was one of the few able seamen to hold two Polar Medals - one from the Terra Nova expedition and one from the Endurance expedition.

"I weighed around 200 lbs when the Endurance sank, and went down to around 100 lbs before being rescued from Elephant Island."
Thomas McLeod

"Were you aware that Thomas being a good Presbyterian retrieved the bible, presented to the expedition by Queen Alexandra, when Shackleton threw it away, because he believed to throw away a Bible was a bad omen."
Robin Mackenzie
- Stornoway Historical Society

"Some of my shipmates were down to see me off. What I always thought impossible happened. Old McLeod, one of the most hard-boiled sailors I ever ran across, started to blubber like a baby when I bade him goodbye."
William Bakewell - 1916

"a typical old deep-sea salt and growler"

Bakewell and McLeod lived out the later years of their lives quite near to each other, though neither was ever aware of it.

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The usual description of the arrival in the world of Thomas McLeod (or MacLeod) is that he was born at Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the son of a draper, John and Mary, the second eldest of four sons.

However the real story seems to be rather different to this - this communication and information arrived courtesy of Robin Mackenzie of the Stornoway Historical Society to whom I am indebted for his contribution to this page:

Since I did the original research some interesting new facts about his parentage have turned up. A member of the Society a Mrs M. Macinnes discovered that although Tom was brought up in Stornoway, he was actually born in Glasgow in 1873 illegitimately. and brought home my his mother. In other words the record shows Barbara Macleod of Point Street as his only parent. See below.

The truth of him retrieving the Bible is well known but the Society has traced its whereabouts since the rescue from Elephant Island. See below.


23 Jan 2007

Tom was born, he said, in Stornoway on 3rd April 1873. But his birth record is to be found in Glasgow, not in Lewis.

Like many young island girls, Barbara McLeod from Point Street had gone south to find employment in domestic service in the city. The 1871 census records her working in Garscube House in Maryhill. In 1873 she gave birth to a son at 11 Oxford Street, Tradeston. No father’s name is recorded in the birth register, but 87 years later, on Tom’s death certificate in Ontario, his parents are recorded as David and Barbara. The identity of his father is a mystery.

Little Tommy McLeod was taken home to Stornoway to be brought up by his widowed grandmother in rooms above Murdo Macrae, cooper, at the corner of Point Street and Quay Lane. Having no siblings of his own, he regarded his Uncle Angus, just eleven years his senior, as his big brother. Angus got a job as a stable boy and later worked for many years as coachman to Doctor Murdoch Mackenzie. Dr. Mackenzie was the doctor who started the Lewis Hospital, Stornoway in 1896.

The harbour was Tommy’s playground and at the age of 13 he went to sea. He celebrated his 14th birthday across he world in Australia. By 1910 he was an experienced seaman. He had travelled the world, seen service in the Boer War, and had now decided to settle for a while in the Southern Hemisphere. Tom, and John Graham from Ness, Isle of Lewis, boarded the Terra Nova in Lyttleton Harbour, looking for work. There was only one position available and Tom got it. This was to be the first of three Antarctic adventures for the Stornoway seaman.

On the return of the ill fated Scott Expedition in July 1913 Tom, along with his fellow seamen, was presented with the silver Polar medal by King George V in recognition of his service to Polar exploration.

In Punta Arenas Tom was billeted with the McLean family. He showed his appreciation of their kindness by presenting them with the expedition’s Bible on his departure. He wrote in the front, “To Mrs McLean from T. F. McLeod Trans. Ant. Expedition 13.9.16”. In 1971 the McLeans’ daughter passed the Bible to Commander Burley of the 1970-71 Joint Services expedition to Elephant Island who was giving a lecture in Buenos Aires. Burley forwarded it to the Royal Geographical Society where it is now held. The missing leaves are in the possession of the Shackleton family.

Robin Mackenzie - Stornoway Historical Society


Little is known about the details of McLeod's life. He was a lifelong bachelor, in 1923 he emigrated to Canada where initially he was a fisherman off Bell's Island for two years. He was a school caretaker for ten years and then later a night watchman. He lived in Kingston, Ontario. In 1947 he moved again to Rideaucrest eventually passing away in the House of Providence, Montreal Street, Kingston, a retirement home, on the 16th of December 1960.

Though the records are not all in agreement, it seems that McLeod was 91 years old when he died, making him the oldest of the Endurance expeditioners, though not the last to pass away. He is buried Cataraqui Cemetery, Kingston, Canada.

Some of the crew of the Endurance photographed in Buenos Aries 1917
picture courtesy Robin Mackenzie - Stornoway Historical Society

"It is amazing that Old Tom is wearing his Polar Medal because it means that he carried it with him all through the  trauma of the sinking of the Endurance and the hell of Elephant Island."
Robin Mackenzie
- Stornoway Historical Society

Thomas McLeod's Grave site at Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
44° 16' 9"N, 76° 32' 29"W

Picture provided by Chris Howitt

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
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Movies / Documentaries
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
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original footage
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The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage
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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
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Buy from Amazon USA DVD  |  Buy from Amazon UK DVD

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

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