Tom Crean was a man of great bravery, fortitude and heart. Polar explorer and Kerry legend, he is a man who deserves wider recognition for his expeditions and heroics.
Born in Annascaul, Kerry on the 25th February 1877, Tom Crean went on to become one of Ireland’s greatest yet largely unsung heroes. As a polar explorer, he served on three expeditions to the Antarctic, the Discovery (1901-1904) and Terra Nova (1910 – 1913) both under Captain Robert Scott and the Endurance (1914-1916) under Ernest Shackleton. When his exploration days were done he returned to the Navy where he had served in his younger days. Later in life when he retired, he opened a pub The South Pole in his home town of Annascaul with his wife where he lived quietly until he died on 27th July 1938.
Tom Crean On the Endurance expedition
It was on the Terra Nova expedition that he undertook one of the most selfless acts in the history of exploration. On the 18th of February 1912, on the return journey to the pole, Crean and his fellow party member Bill Lashly and Edward Evans reached Corner Camp. The men were exhausted having, Evans was near death having collapsed from scurvy a few days prior and was being dragged on a sledge. They had only one or two days rations left and the refuge of Hut Point was still 56 km (35 miles) ahead.
Fearing Evans would not make it the 4 or 5 days it would take to haul him to safety Crean, who clearly placed the welfare of others before himself, volunteered to go on ahead alone and get help while Lashly stayed in the tent with Evans.
With only three biscuits and some chocolate to sustain him Crean undertook an 18 hour solo journey over the harsh unforgiving snow to Hut Point, hardly stopping for a break. Determined to push forward he battled the perilous climate, the howling winds, unstable ice and at times wading waist deep in snow. Eventually he managed to traverse the treacherous terrain and at around 3.30am he collapsed through the door at Hut Point with sheer exhaustion.
It was only because of his selfless act that Evans survived and managed to fully recover. For their bravery and efforts to save their friend Crean and Lashly were awarded the Albert Medal for Conspicuous Bravery.
Tom Crean’s story of heroism is inspirational but the Terra Nova tale is just one of many. Crean was an exceptional explorer and a selfless man who risked his own life to save others. A monument stands in his honour in his home town of Annascaul.