Brief History of Tom Crean -Antarctic Explorer

I was pleased with the reaction of the photograph published showing the Dingle Peninsula in Southern Ireland from Killorgan Golf Club. Five of us regularly visited the area allegedly to play golf but it always coincided with a day at the races and many hostelries. One of our group was an Iresman, Tom Cream, named after his great uncle and a big hero of Ireland. The original Tom was from the Dingle Peninsula and part of a large poor family. Aged 14 Tom ran away from home, lied about his age and joined the Royal Navy. A few years later, now in his early twenties he was on board his ship in New Zealand when  Captain Scott was also in port taking provisions and fuel before heading to Antartica for an expedition to the  South Pole. Scott was having trouble with one of his crew and discharged him and sought a re placement from the navel vessel in port. Tom Crean volunteered and was selected, now 6ft 4in and strong as an ox. A new adventure beckoned. Once in Antartica Tom proved his worth and the Base station was built and preparations and planning found Tom being included in the party attempting the race to the Pole. Scott decided there would be eight in the party and that the final push would be made by four men and the supporting team would return to base and await the return of Scott. When they set out Scott had not decided who would make up the final four. When the time came for the final push, Scott changed his mind and devided them into five and three, with three returning and now five to make it to the Pole. Tom was one of those to return. He was dissapointed but he was not an officer and that held great sway in those days. The three returning men had a hard journey and eventually one of them could not go on and was dying. They were 35 miles from base camp and Tom decided to walk it himself go get help. With only a few biscuits and using a distant mountain as a guide he set off. He made the journey, collapsing on arrival. Immediately a search team with dogs was despatched. They found the tent and both men just alive and survived. As we know Scott made it to the South Pole only to be have lost the race and his party perished on the way back.Tom was with the party that found Scott and dead men in their tent. Tom returned  to the Royal Navy. 

Shackleton came on the scene and sought an expedition to Antartica with plans to transverse from one side to the other via the South Pole. He sought and was given permission for Tom to be seconded to the expedition. Before departing London the ship was visited by the King and his Queen together with ladies in waiting. Tom Crean was on parade and one of the ladies saw his white medal ribbon and ran her finger over it and asked what it was for. It is a polar medal, mam he replied. Oh I thought it was for innocence  she  said! The expedition was a failure with with the ship caught in the ice and crushed. All crew abandoned the ship with lifeboats and provisions being hauled across the ice to the open sea. The crew sailed to Elephant island. There Shackleton made plans to sail to East Gorgie some 800 miles away in  one of the lifeboats. He picked 5 men to accompany him on the journey. Tom Crean was selected. The six set sail with just a sexton  and small compass to navigate by. They made it but due to bad weather were unable to land on the north side at the whaling station. They landed on the south side and Shackleton led two other crew men to accompany him over the uncharted  mountains to the whaling station. He selected Tom and the ship’s carpenter who made their boots into snow shoes with nails through the souls. They thought it was a one off chance and it had to be completed in a 24 hour window. They set off early and several, times had to retrace their route but eventually, drenched to the skin they made it. Shackleton was known at South Georgia but no one recognised them when they stumbled into the offices. The three men on the south of the island were rescued next day. It took longer to rescue the crew on Elephant Island with a ship sent from Chile. Tom Crean returned go the Royal Navy and retired as a chief petty officer and purchased a pub on the Dingle Peninsula. The pub still exists and is The South Pole Inn that has many photographs in the bar depicting the adventures of Tom Crean in Antartica. 

Footnote: Last year a gin was produced named Tom Crean by the son of the current Tom Crean. I have ordered two bottles and have two books on Tom Crean. They will be family Christmas presents  to my family who I hope will give them an insight into a rare life. The books tell an in depth story of a remarkable man. As you might expect whenever the Tom Crean of today is known in a bar in  Ireland there is a warm welcome and late nights. 

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  1. A fantastic historical account of adventure Squabble, his nephew must be a very proud man. Many thanks for sharing with us.
    When Rob and I were in Ireland in 1998, due to time constraints, we had to make a choice between doing the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsular. We did the former but it has always been a disappointment to us that we could not do both.

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