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An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor - The Incredible Story of an Irish Explorer





An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor




Introduction




Antarctica is a continent of extremes: the coldest, driest, windiest and most isolated place on Earth. Exploring its vast and inhospitable terrain requires courage, endurance and resilience. Many brave men have ventured into this frozen wilderness, but few have left such a remarkable legacy as Tom Crean.




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Who was Tom Crean?




Tom Crean was an Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer who was born in 1877 in County Kerry. He ran away from home at the age of 15 and joined the Royal Navy. He served on three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration: Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition (19011904) and Terra Nova Expedition (19101913), and Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (19141917). He was one of the few men who served with both Scott and Shackleton, and spent more time on the ice than either of them.


Why is he an unsung hero?




Tom Crean was a humble and modest man who never sought fame or glory for his deeds. He was a loyal and reliable team member who always did his duty without complaint. He was also a fearless and resourceful adventurer who performed many acts of heroism and saved several lives. He survived some of the most harrowing ordeals in Antarctic history, such as the race to the South Pole, the loss of Scott's party, the sinking of Endurance, and the boat journey to South Georgia. Yet he never wrote a book or gave a lecture about his experiences. He died in 1938, largely forgotten by the public.


What are the main sources of information about him?




Fortunately, Tom Crean's story has been rediscovered and celebrated by historians, biographers, filmmakers and admirers in recent years. Some of the main sources of information about him are:


  • The journals and memoirs of his fellow explorers, such as Scott, Shackleton, Cherry-Garrard, Worsley and Hurley.



  • The official reports and publications of the expeditions he participated in.



  • The photographs and films taken during the expeditions.



  • The medals and awards he received for his bravery and service.



  • The interviews and testimonies of his family and friends.



  • The books and documentaries that have been written and produced about him, such as An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor by Michael Smith, Tom Crean - Ice Man by Michael Smith and Aidan Dooley, and Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer by Tim Hetherington.



Discovery Expedition, 19011904




How did Crean join Scott's first Antarctic expedition?




In 1901, Tom Crean was serving on the HMS Ringarooma in New Zealand, when he heard that Captain Robert Falcon Scott was looking for volunteers to join his first Antarctic expedition. Crean was eager to see new lands and have new adventures, so he applied and was accepted. He was one of the 50 men who sailed on the Discovery, a wooden ship specially built for polar exploration.


What were the main achievements and challenges of the expedition?




The Discovery Expedition was the first official British expedition to Antarctica since James Clark Ross's voyage in 1841. Its main objectives were to conduct scientific research, explore the unknown regions of the continent, and attempt to reach the South Pole. Some of the main achievements of the expedition were:


  • The discovery and exploration of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica.



  • The discovery and ascent of the Polar Plateau, a high and flat region near the South Pole.



  • The discovery and naming of King Edward VII Land, Victoria Land, and the McMurdo Dry Valleys.



  • The collection and analysis of various specimens of flora, fauna, rocks, fossils, and meteorites.



  • The establishment of a permanent base at Hut Point on Ross Island, where the Discovery was moored for two winters.



  • The attainment of a new farthest south record of 8217'S by Scott, Ernest Shackleton and Edward Wilson in 1902.



Some of the main challenges of the expedition were:


  • The harsh and unpredictable weather conditions, such as blizzards, gales, fog and extreme cold.



  • The difficult and dangerous terrain, such as crevasses, glaciers, icebergs and pressure ridges.



  • The lack of proper equipment, clothing, food and transport for polar travel.



  • The isolation and boredom of spending long periods in a confined space with limited communication with the outside world.



  • The physical and mental strain of coping with hunger, thirst, fatigue, frostbite, scurvy and depression.



  • The conflicts and tensions among some of the crew members due to personality clashes, leadership issues and disciplinary problems.



How did Crean prove his courage and endurance?




Tom Crean proved his courage and endurance in many ways during the Discovery Expedition. He was one of the most active and versatile members of the crew, performing various duties such as cooking, cleaning, hunting, sledging, skiing and dog driving. He was also one of the most cheerful and optimistic members of the crew, always ready to sing a song or tell a joke to lift the spirits of his comrades. He participated in several sledging journeys across the ice, covering hundreds of miles and enduring many hardships. He also showed remarkable bravery and loyalty on several occasions, such as:


  • When he volunteered to join Scott's Southern Journey in 1902, despite having no previous experience of polar exploration.



  • When he helped rescue Shackleton from a crevasse during the Southern Journey.



  • When he stayed behind with Wilson to look after Scott when he collapsed from scurvy during the return from the Southern Journey.



  • When he volunteered to join Scott's Western Journey in 1903, despite having suffered from scurvy himself.



  • When he helped rescue Lieutenant Royds from a blizzard during the Western Journey.



  • When he volunteered to join Scott's Relief Expedition in 1904, despite having spent three years in Antarctica already.



Terra Nova Expedition, 19101913




How did Crean rejoin Scott's second Antarctic expedition?




In 1910, Tom Crean was serving on the HMS Bulwark in England, when he heard that Captain Robert Falcon Scott was planning his second Antarctic expedition. Crean was keen to return to Antarctica and see his old friends again, so he applied and was accepted. He was one of the 65 men who sailed on the Terra Nova, an old whaling ship that had been refitted for polar exploration.


What were the main goals and difficulties of the expedition?





Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (Endurance Expedition), 19141917




How did Crean become part of Shackleton's Antarctic expedition?




In 1914, Tom Crean was serving on the HMS Essex in England, when he heard that Sir Ernest Shackleton was planning an ambitious Antarctic expedition. Shackleton's goal was to cross the continent from coast to coast via the South Pole, a feat that had never been done before. Crean was eager to join his former leader and friend, so he applied and was accepted. He was one of the 28 men who sailed on the Endurance, a sturdy ship designed for polar navigation.


What were the main events and hardships of the expedition?




The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was one of the most dramatic and heroic stories of Antarctic exploration. It was also one of the most tragic and disastrous. Some of the main events and hardships of the expedition were:


  • The Endurance became trapped and crushed by pack ice in the Weddell Sea, forcing the crew to abandon ship and camp on the drifting ice floes.



  • The crew spent 492 days on the ice, enduring freezing temperatures, blinding blizzards, hunger, thirst, disease and despair.



  • The crew made several attempts to reach land or open water by dragging their lifeboats across the ice or sailing them through leads.



  • The crew finally reached Elephant Island, a desolate and uninhabited island off the Antarctic Peninsula, where they set up a makeshift camp.



  • Shackleton and five men, including Crean, embarked on a perilous boat journey across 800 miles (1,300 km) of stormy seas to reach South Georgia, where they hoped to find help.



  • Shackleton, Crean and Frank Worsley crossed the rugged mountains and glaciers of South Georgia on foot to reach a whaling station on the other side of the island.



  • Shackleton organized several rescue attempts to reach Elephant Island and bring back the rest of his men.



  • All 28 men of the expedition survived and were eventually reunited after more than two years of separation and ordeal.



How did Crean participate in the epic boat journey and rescue mission?




Tom Crean was one of Shackleton's most trusted and loyal men. He was chosen by Shackleton to accompany him on the epic boat journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia, along with Frank Worsley, John Vincent, Timothy McCarthy and Harry McNish. Crean helped to prepare and launch the James Caird, a 22-foot (6.7 m) lifeboat that had been modified and reinforced for the voyage. He also helped to navigate, row, sail and bail out water during the 16-day journey across some of the most treacherous waters in the world. He endured hunger, thirst, cold, wetness, exhaustion and seasickness with remarkable fortitude and good humour.


Crean also participated in the crossing of South Georgia with Shackleton and Worsley. He left behind his boots on Elephant Island, so he had to make do with improvised footwear made from canvas and screws. He climbed over steep slopes, crevasses and snowfields with skill and courage. He also carried extra weight in his backpack to lighten Shackleton's load. He reached the whaling station at Stromness with his companions after a 36-hour march across the island.


Crean then joined Shackleton on three rescue attempts to reach Elephant Island by boat. The first two attempts failed due to ice conditions. The third attempt succeeded with the help of a Chilean steamer called Yelcho. Crean was overjoyed to see his comrades again after four months of separation. He helped them board the Yelcho and return to civilization.


Later life and legacy




How did Crean return to Ireland and settle down?




After returning from Antarctica in 1917, Tom Crean resumed his naval career but soon retired due to ill health. He returned to his native Ireland and married Ellen Herlihy in 1917. They had three children: Mary (1919), Kate (1921) and Eileen (1923). He bought a pub in Annascaul, County Kerry, and named it The South Pole Inn. He lived a quiet and modest life, rarely talking about his Antarctic adventures. He was well liked and respected by his neighbours and customers.


How did he die and where is he buried?




Tom Crean died on 27 July 1938 at the age of 61. He had suffered a burst appendix and was taken to a hospital in Cork, where he underwent surgery. However, he developed peritonitis and died shortly afterwards. He was buried in the cemetery of Ballynacourty, near his home in Annascaul. His grave is marked by a simple headstone with a cross and his name.


How is he remembered and honoured today?




Tom Crean's legacy as an Antarctic explorer and hero has been revived and celebrated in recent years. Some of the ways he is remembered and honoured today are:


  • His medals and awards, including the Albert Medal and the Polar Medal with three bars, are displayed at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London.



  • His pub, The South Pole Inn, is still operating and has become a popular tourist attraction. It contains many memorabilia and photographs of his Antarctic expeditions.



  • His biography, An Unsung Hero: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor, written by Michael Smith in 2000, has become a bestseller and has been translated into several languages.



  • His life story has been adapted into a one-man play, Tom Crean - Antarctic Explorer, written and performed by Aidan Dooley since 2001. The play has won several awards and has toured internationally.



  • His portrait, painted by John Kelly in 2003, hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.



  • A statue of him, sculpted by Eamonn O'Doherty in 2003, stands outside the South Pole Inn in Annascaul.



  • A documentary film about him, Tom Crean - Ice Man, directed by Tim Hetherington in 2005, has been broadcast on television and shown at film festivals.



  • A mountain range in Antarctica, the Crean Glacier on South Georgia, and a lake near his birthplace have been named after him.



  • A commemorative stamp featuring his image was issued by An Post, the Irish postal service, in 2007.



  • A musical about him, Tom Crean - The Musical, written by Paul Wickham and Aidan O'Connor in 2012, has been staged in Ireland.



Conclusion




Tom Crean was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life. He was one of the greatest Antarctic explorers of all time, who participated in three historic expeditions to the frozen continent. He was a man of courage, endurance and loyalty, who performed many feats of heroism and saved several lives. He was also a man of humility, modesty and humour, who never sought fame or glory for his deeds. He was an unsung hero who deserves to be remembered and honoured for his achievements and contributions to science, geography and history.


FAQs





What made Tom Crean run away from home at the age of 15?


  • Tom Crean ran away from home at the age of 15 because he wanted to see the world and have new adventures. He was bored with farm life and did not get along with his father. He also wanted to escape from poverty and oppression in Ireland under British rule.



How did Tom Crean get along with Scott and Shackleton?


  • Tom Crean got along well with both Scott and Shackleton. He admired them as leaders and explorers, and respected their authority. He was loyal and obedient to their commands, but also had a friendly and informal relationship with them. He shared their passion for Antarctica and their sense of duty and honour.



What was Tom Crean's favourite song?


  • Tom Crean's favourite song was \"The Wearing of the Green\", a patriotic Irish song that expresses defiance against British oppression. He often sang it during his Antarctic expeditions to cheer up his comrades and himself.



What was Tom Crean's favourite drink?


  • Tom Crean's favourite drink was rum, which he often drank during his Antarctic expeditions to keep warm and boost morale. He also liked Irish whiskey, which he served at his pub in Annascaul.



What was Tom Crean's nickname?


  • a large beard and a booming voice. He was also called \"Crean of the Antarctic\" by his admirers.



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