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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Shackleton’s Expedition Finds South Magnetic Pole

nimrod-expedition-southern-partyErnest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition finds the South Magnetic Pole on January 16, 1909.

On January 1, 1908, Nimrod sails for the Antarctic from Lyttelton Harbour, New Zealand. Shackleton’s original plans had envisaged using the old Discovery Expedition base in McMurdo Sound to launch his attempts on the South Pole and South Magnetic Pole. Before leaving England, he had been pressured to give an undertaking to Captain Robert Falcon Scott that he would not base himself in the McMurdo area, which Scott was claiming as his own field of work. Shackleton reluctantly agrees to look for winter quarters at either the Barrier Inlet, which the Discovery Expedition had briefly visited in 1902, or King Edward VII Land.

To conserve coal, the ship is towed 1,650 miles by the steamer Koonya to the Antarctic ice, after Shackleton had persuaded the New Zealand government and the Union Steamship Company to share the cost. In accordance with Shackleton’s promise to Scott, the ship heads for the eastern sector of the Great Ice Barrier, arriving there on January 21, 1908. They find that the Barrier Inlet has expanded to form a large bay, in which are hundreds of whales, which leads to the immediate christening of the area as the Bay of Whales. It is noted that ice conditions are unstable, precluding the establishment of a safe base there. An extended search for an anchorage at King Edward VII Land proves equally fruitless, so Shackleton is forced to break his undertaking to Scott and set sail for McMurdo Sound, a decision which, according to second officer Arthur Harbord, is “dictated by common sense” in view of the difficulties of ice pressure, coal shortage and the lack of any nearer known base.

Nimrod arrives at McMurdo Sound on January 29, but is stopped by ice 16 miles north of Discovery‘s old base at Hut Point. After considerable weather delays, Shackleton’s base is eventually established at Cape Royds, about 24 miles north of Hut Point. The party is in high spirits, despite the difficult conditions. Shackleton’s ability to communicate with each man keeps the party happy and focused.

The “Great Southern Journey”, as Frank Wild calls it, begins on October 29, 1908. On January 9, 1909, Shackleton and three companions (Wild, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams) reach a new Farthest South latitude of 88° 23′ S, a point only 112 miles from the Pole. En route the South Pole party discovers the Beardmore Glacier, named after Shackleton’s patron Sir William Beardmore, and become the first persons to see and travel on the South Polar Plateau. Their return journey to McMurdo Sound is a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. At one point, Shackleton gives his one biscuit allotted for the day to the ailing Frank Wild, who writes in his diary, “All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me.” They arrive at Hut Point just in time to catch the ship.

The expedition’s other main accomplishments include the first ascent of Mount Erebus, and the discovery of the approximate location of the South Magnetic Pole, reached on January 16, 1909 by Edgeworth David, Douglas Mawson, and Alistair Mackay. Shackleton returns to the United Kingdom as a hero, and soon afterwards publishes his expedition account, Heart of the Antarctic.

In 1910, Shackleton makes a series of three recordings describing the expedition using an Edison Phonograph.

Several mostly intact cases of whisky and brandy left behind in 1909 are recovered in 2010 for analysis by a distilling company. A revival of the vintage (and since lost) formula for the particular brands found has been offered for sale with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Antarctic Heritage Trust (New Zealand) which discovered the lost spirits.

(Pictured: Nimrod Expedition South Pole Party (left to right): Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams)

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Death of Antarctic Explorer Tom Crean

Tom Crean

Thomas “Tom” Crean, Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer, dies on July 27, 1938 from complications of appendicitis.

Crean was born 1877 in the farming area of Gurtuchrane near the village of Annascaul on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. He leaves the family farm to enlist in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen. In 1901, while serving on Ringarooma in New Zealand, he volunteers to join Captain Robert Falcon Scott‘s 1901–04 Discovery Expedition to Antarctica, thus beginning his exploring career.

He is a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Captain Scott’s 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition. This sees the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen and ends in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition, Crean’s 35 statute miles solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans leads to him receiving the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.

After his Terra Nova experience, Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture is as second officer on Ernest Shackleton‘s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, on Endurance. After Endurance becomes beset in the pack ice and sinks, Crean and the ship’s company spend months drifting on the ice before a journey in boats to Elephant Island. He is a member of the crew which makes an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.

Crean’s contributions to these expeditions seals his reputation as a polar explorer and earns him a total of three Polar medals. After the Endurance expedition, he returns to the navy. When his naval career ends in 1920 he moves back to County Kerry. In his home town of Annascaul, Crean and his wife Ellen live quietly and unobtrusively and open a pub called The South Pole Inn.

In 1938 Crean becomes ill with a ruptured appendix. He is taken to the nearest hospital in Tralee, but as no surgeon is available to operate, he is transferred to the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork where his appendix is removed. Because of the delay of the operation an infection develops and after a week in the hospital he dies on July 27, 1938, shortly after his sixty-first birthday. He is buried in his family’s tomb at the cemetery in Ballynacourty.

Crean’s name is commemorated in at least two places – 8,630 foot Mount Crean in Victoria Land and the Crean Glacier on South Georgia. A one-man play, Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer, has been widely performed since 2001 by its author Aidan Dooley, including a special showing at the South Pole Inn, Annascaul, in October 2001. In July 2003, a bronze statue of Crean is unveiled across from his pub in Annascaul. It depicts him leaning against a crate whilst holding a pair of hiking poles in one hand and two of his beloved sled dog pups in the other.


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The Theft of the Irish Crown Jewels

irish-crown-jewels-rewardThe theft from Dublin Castle of the Irish Crown Jewels, the heavily jeweled star and badge regalia of the Sovereign and Grand Master of the Order of St. Patrick, as well as the collars of five knights of the Order is discovered on July 6, 1907. The theft has never been solved and the jewels have never been recovered.

Prior to 1903, the insignia of the Sovereign and those of deceased Knights are in the custody of the Ulster King of Arms, the senior Irish officer of arms, and are kept in a bank vault. In 1903, the jewels are transferred to a safe, which is to be placed in the newly constructed strongroom in Dublin Castle beside the Ulster King of Arms’ office. The new safe is too large for the doorway to the strongroom and Arthur Vicars, the Ulster King of Arms, instead stores it in his office. Seven latch keys to the door of the Office of Arms are held by Vicars and his staff, and two keys to the safe containing the insignia are both in the custody of Vicars. Vicars is known to regularly get drunk on overnight duty and he once awoke to find the jewels around his neck. It is not known whether or not this is a prank or a practice for the actual theft.

The insignia are last worn by the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Aberdeen, on March 15, 1907, at a function to mark Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17. They are last known to be in the safe on June 11, when Vicars shows them to a visitor to his office. The jewels are discovered to be missing on July 6, four days before the start of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra to the Irish International Exhibition, at which it is planned to invest Bernard FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown, into the Order. The theft reportedly angers the King but the visit goes on as scheduled, however, the investiture ceremony is cancelled.

A police investigation is conducted by the Dublin Metropolitan Police (DMP). Posters issued by the DMP depict and describe the missing jewels. Detective Chief Inspector John Kane of Scotland Yard arrives on July 12 to assist. His report, which is never released, is said to name the culprit but is suppressed by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC).

Vicars refuses to resign his position, and similarly refuses to appear at a Viceregal Commission into the theft. Vicars argues for a public Royal Commission instead, which has the power to subpoena witnesses. He publicly accuses his second in command, Francis Shackleton, of the theft. Kane explicitly denies to the Commission that Shackleton, brother of the explorer Ernest Shackleton, is involved. Shackleton is exonerated in the Commission’s report, and Vicars is found to have “not exercise[d] due vigilance or proper care as the custodian of the regalia.” Vicars is compelled to resign, as are all the staff in his personal employ.