Tom Crean, Antarctic Explorer

Tom Crean
Tom Crean

Tom Crean (20 July 1877 – 27 July 1938) was a member of three Antarctic expeditions in the early twentieth century.

Tom Crean's birthplace, the family farmhouse in Gortacurrane
Tom Crean’s birthplace, the family farmhouse in Gortacurrane

Born in Gortacurraun, outside Annascaul, he attended Brackloon National School until the age of 12, when he started work on the family farm. In 1893 he enlisted in the British Royal Navy at nearby Minard, aged just 15, apparently without the permission of his parents.

In 1901 he was stationed in New Zealand , and volunteered to become a member of Robert Falcon Scott’s 1901-1904 Antarctic expedition on the Discovery. During the Antarctic winter of 1902 the ship became locked in the ice and Crean and the majority of the crew were trapped there until February 1904.

In 1910 Crean was recruited by Scott for his Terra Nova Expedition. Crean made an 18 hour trek in desperate conditions to save the life Lieutenant Evans, a feat for which he was awarded the Albert Medal.

When Scott’s party did not return from the Pole, Crean was one of the rescue party who discovered their remains in November 1912.

Crean’s third and final Antarctic expedition was under the command of Ernest Shackleton. The expedition sat sail on board the Endurance in 1914. The ship became trapped in ice in January 1915, eventually being crushed by ice and sinking in November of the same year. The crew escaped in life boats, arriving on Elephant Island in April 1915.  Crean was then one of the six-man crew of the lifeboat James Caird which went to summon rescuers from the whaling station in South Georgia. They landed on the north side of the island, and had to climb over the mountainous spine to reach the station on 20 May. The twenty-two crewmen stranded on Elephant Island were rescued.

World War I had broken out during the expedition and Crean spent the rest of the conflict at Chatham Naval Barracks in England and in Queentown (now Cobh) in County Cork.

The South Pole Inn
The South Pole Inn

In September 1917 he married Ellen Herlihy and in 1920 retired from the navy on medical grounds. The couple opened a pub, The South Pole Inn in Annascaul village

Tom Crean's Grave in Ballinacourty
Tom Crean’s Grave in Ballinacourty

Tom Crean died from a burst appendix in July 1938 and was buried in Ballinacourty graveyard.

The Statue in the Tom Crean Memorial Garden
The Statue in the Tom Crean Memorial Garden

In recent years, Tom Crean, who had been almost forgotten, has again become a celebrated hero. In 2000 Michael Smith wrote the book Tom Crean – Unsung Hero, and in July 2003 a statue of  Tom Crean sculpted by Eamon O’Doherty was unveiled in a small memorial garden in the centre of the village over the road from the South Pole Inn.

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