Tom Crean- Annascaul’s Antarctic ExplorerWritten by Lorcan
This Friday 20th July marks the 135th anniversary of the birth of Annascaul’s most famous son, Tom Crean. A week later, on the 27th July it will be 74 years since the unsung hero of the Antarctic passed away.
Tom was born in Gurtuchrane near Annascaul, to Patrick Crean and Catherine Courtney. At the age of 15, he enlisted in the Royal Navy at the naval station in nearby Minard. His enlistment as a boy second class is recorded in Royal Navy records on 10 July 1893, 10 days before his 16th birthday.
In February 1900 Tom was posted to the torpedo vessel Ringarooma, which was part of the Royal Navy's New Zealand Squadron based in the South Island. In December 1901 the Ringarooma was ordered to assist Robert Falcon Scott's ship Discovery when it was docked at Lyttelton Harbour before embarking on the British National Antarctic Expedition to Antarctica. When an able seaman of Scott's ship deserted a replacement was required; Crean volunteered, and was accepted.
Having caught Captain Scott's attention with his attitude and work ethic on the Discovery Expedition, in 1906 Scott requested that Crean join him on the Victorious. Over the next few years Crean followed Scott successively to other vessels. Scott held Crean in high regard, so he was among the first people Scott recruited when planning the Terra Nova Expedition.
Crean was one of the large group that departed with Scott in November 1911 for the attempt at the South Pole. This journey had three stages: 400 miles across the Barrier, 120 miles (up the heavily crevassed Beardmore Glacier to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, and then another 350 miles to the Pole. Crean and William Lashly, along with Lieutenant Edward Evans, formed the final support party which accompanied Scott and his team to 87°32'S, 168 statute miles (270 km) from the Pole. Here, on 4 January 1912, Crean's party was ordered to return to base while Scott, Edgar Evans, Wilson, Bowers and Lawrence Oates continued towards the Pole. After two months of effort to reach this point, Crean apparently wept at the prospect of having to turn back so close to the goal.
Crean, Lashly and Evans now faced a 700 mile (1,100 km) journey back to Hut Point. Before long Evans began to display the first symptoms of scurvy. Through the efforts of Crean and Lashly the group struggled towards One Ton Depot, which they reached on 11 February. At this point Evans collapsed. With well over 100 miles (160 km) to travel before the safety of Hut Point, Crean and Lashly began hauling Evans on the sledge. On the 18th February they arrived at Corner Camp, still 35 miles from Hut Point, With only one or two days' food rations left, but still four or five days' man-hauling to do, they decided that Crean should go on alone to fetch help. With only a little chocolate and three biscuits to sustain him, without a tent or survival equipment Crean walked the distance to Hut Point in 18 hours, arriving in a state of collapse. The rescue was successful, however, and Lashly and Evans were both brought to base camp alive. In a rare written account, he 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."
Scott's party failed to return and in November 1912, Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found the remains of the polar party.
On 12 February 1913 Crean and the remaining crew of the Terra Nova
arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand, and shortly after returned to England. Crean and Lashly were both awarded the Albert Medal, 2nd Class for saving Evans's life.
Crean joined Ernest Shackleton's Transantarctic Expedition on 25 May 1914, On 19 January 1915 the expedition's ship, The Endurance, was beset in the Weddell Sea pack ice.The ship drifted in the ice for months, eventually sinking on 21st of November. The crew after months drifting in the pack ice had to sail and row the three ill-equipped lifeboats through the pack ice to Elephant Island, a trip which lasted five days.
On reaching Elephant Island, Shackleton decided that, rather than waiting for a rescue ship that would probably never arrive, one of the lifeboats should be strengthened so that a crew could sail it to South Georgia and arrange a rescue. This meant modifying one of the lifeboats—the James Caird—in preparation for this journey, which Shackleton would lead with Tom and four others on board.The 800-nautical-mile (1,500 km) boat journey to South Georgia, described by polar historian Caroline Alexander as one of the most extraordinary feats of seamanship and navigation in recorded history, took 17 days through gales and snow squalls, in heavy seas. Setting off on the 24th April 1916 armed with just the barest equipment, they reached South Georgia on 10 May 1916.
They made their South Georgia landfall on the uninhabited southern coast. The three fittest men—Shackleton, Crean, and Worsley—were therefore required to trek 30 miles (48 km) across the island's glaciated surface, in a hazardous 36-hour journey to the nearest manned whaling station. This trek was the first recorded crossing of the mountainous island, completed without tents, sleeping bags, or map—their only mountaineering equipment was a carpenter's adze, a length of alpine rope, and screws from the James Caird hammered through their boots to serve as crampons. They quickly organized a boat to pick up the three on the other side of South Georgia, but thereafter it took three months and four attempts by ship to rescue the other 22 men still on Elephant Island.
On his last naval assignment, with Hecla, Crean suffered a bad fall which caused lasting effects to his vision. As a result, he was retired on medical grounds on 24 March 1920. He and Ellen opened a small Pub in Annascaul, which he called the South Pole Inn and is still there to thís da.The couple had three daughters, Mary, Kate, and Eileen, although Kate died in infancy.
In 1938 he became ill with a burst appendix. He was taken to the nearest hospital in Tralee, and later transferred to the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork where his appendix was removed. Because the operation had been delayed, an infection developed, and after a week in the hospital he died on 27 July 1938, shortly after his sixty-first birthday
Tom Crean is commemorated in at least two place names in the Antarctic- Mount Crean 8,630 feet (2,630 m) in Victoria Land, and the Crean Glacier on South Georgia. There is also a statue and Memorial Garden in Annascaul Village