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John William Vincent (1879 - 1941) - Biographical Notes

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John William Vincent

 Able seaman Endurance

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.



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

Later on, back in England, Shackleton denied Vincent the Polar Medal, given to all but 4 of the expedition members.


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.


References to John Vincent in Shackleton's book "South!" buy USA   buy UK

  • 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 happy.

  • 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 after them.

  • 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 Name: Vincent Islands
Feature Type: island
Latitude: 5409S
Longitude: 03716W
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.

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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South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words
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Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
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Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley
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biography by Roland
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The Quest for Frank Wild
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The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
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Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
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Shackleton's Forgotten Men
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Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
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Movies / Documentaries
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage
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Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002)
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Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization
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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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Free world delivery

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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