News & information on Antarctica & the Southern Ocean

Recounting the heroic exploits of Tom Crean - companion to both Scott and Shackleton

Podcast episode 5 - Published 27 July, 2017 by Nicholas O'Flaherty

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This week, in our podcast, we speak to Michael Smith, author of “An unsung Hero - Tom Crean”, the first biography of Ireland's great Antarctican. Companion to both Scott and Shackleton, Tom Crean ended up spending more time in Antarctica than either, outliving them both.  

Despite his many heroics, Tom Crean remained largely unknown as one of the protagonists of Antarctic exploration. With his book, first published in 2000, Michael Smith has set the record straight. More than 100,000 copies have been sold, and today the story of Crean is now included in the Irish school curriculum.

So who was Tom Crean? 

  • Irishman, Gaelic speaker, Pipe smoker, Singer, Publican of the South Pole Inn in County Kerry.
  • Petty Officer in the Royal Navy.
  • Awarded the Albert Medal at Buckingham Palace by King George V for his heroic exploits saving lives on the Ross Ice Shelf.
  • Veteran of three of the most significant expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration. 

His face is there, peering out from the black and white images of the celebrated photographers of Antarctica; the record of Reginald Skelton in the Discovery expedition of 1901-1904, Herbert Ponting’s ground-breaking photography in Scott’s Terra Nova expedition during the race to the Pole, and Frank Hurley’s iconic images from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, stuck in the sea ice of the Weddell Sea. Tom Crean appears throughout.

But what is remarkable about Tom Crean is that when you revisit his personal exploits in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, you touch on some of the most heroic and poignant episodes in polar exploration.

He’s there with Scott on the polar plateau in January 1912, the last group to turn around, weeping disconsolately when he’s told he won’t be joining the final push to the Pole. Tom and his two companions are the last people to see Scott’s party alive.

They almost suffer the same fate as Scott, in a desperate 1000km return back to base camp, out of food and suffering scurvy. It is only through Tom Crean’s heroic solo dash of the last 56km, that the three are saved.   

Nine months later, Tom Crean is present once more in the search party, when they finally discover the sombre sight of Scott’s tent sticking out on the Ross Ice Shelf, with three bodies inside. Weeping again, Crean enters the tent for the last time to kiss the forehead of Scott, the man they called The Boss.

Race forward to 1916, and Tom Crean plays a key role in the Endurance expedition. He's hand picked by Shackleton to sail in James Caird to South Georgia in search of rescue. Remarkably still, he joins Shackleton and Worsley in the alpine traverse of the island to the whaling station on the other side.  


For more information on Michael Smith, polar exploration author, and how to obtain the book “An unsung Hero - Tom Crean”:


Additional information on Tom Crean is available here:


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