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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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Birth of Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock

Admiral Sir Francis Leopold McClintock, Irish explorer in the British Royal Navy who is known for his discoveries in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, is born on July 8, 1819 in Dundalk, County Louth.

McClintock is the eldest son of Henry McClintock, formerly of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, by his wife Elizabeth Melesina, daughter of the Ven. George Fleury, D.D., archdeacon of Waterford. His uncle is John McClintock (1770–1855) of Drumcar House.

In 1835 McClintock becomes a member of the Royal Navy as a gentleman volunteer, and joins a series of searches for Sir John Franklin between 1848 and 1859. He masters traveling by using human hauled sleds, which remain the status quo in Royal Navy Arctic and Antarctic overland travel until the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott RN in his bid to reach the South Pole. In 1848-49, McClintock accompanies James Clark Ross on his survey of Somerset Island. As part of Capt. Henry Kellett‘s expedition 1852 to 1854, McClintock travels 1,400 miles by sled and discovers 800 miles of previously unknown coastline.

In 1854 the explorer John Rae travels west from Repulse Bay, Nunavut and learns from the Inuit that a ship has been abandoned somewhere to the west. Previous expeditions have not searched the area because they believe it to be ice-blocked. In April 1857 McClintock agrees to take command of the Fox, which belongs to Lady Franklin, and searches for her husband in the area west of Repulse Bay. At Disko Bay he hires thirty sled dogs and an Inuit driver. It is a bad year for ice and from September he is frozen in for eight months. The following year, 1858, is another bad year and he does not reach Beechey Island until August. He enters Peel Sound, finds it blocked by ice, backs up, enters Prince Regent Inlet in the hope of passing Bellot Strait. He is glad to extricate himself from this narrow passage and finds winter quarters near its entrance.

In February 1859, when sledging becomes practical, he goes south to the North Magnetic Pole which had been found by James Clark Ross in 1831. Here he meets some Inuit who tell him that a ship has been crushed by ice off King William Island, the crew has landed safely and that some white people have starved to death on an island. In April he goes south again and on the east coast of King William Island meets other Inuit who sell him artifacts from Franklin’s expedition. William Hobson, who has separated from him, finds the only written record left by Franklin on the northwest corner of the island. They also find a skeleton with European clothes and a ships boat on runners containing two corpses. They get as far south as Montreal Island and the mouth of the Back River.

McClintock returns to England in September 1859 and is knighted. The officers and men of the Fox share a £5,000 parliamentary reward. The tale is published in The Voyage of the ‘Fox’ in the Arctic Seas: A Narrative of the Discovery of the Fate of Sir John Franklin and His Companions. London, 1859.

In 1872–1877 McClintock is Admiral-Superintendent of Portsmouth Dockyard. In 1879 he is appointed Commander-in-Chief, North America and West Indies Station with the flagship HMS Northampton. McClintock leaves the Royal Navy in 1884 as a Rear Admiral. He dies on November 17, 1907. He is buried in Kensington Cemetery, Hanwell, Middlesex.

On October 29, 2009 a special service of thanksgiving is held in the chapel at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, to accompany the rededication of the national monument to Sir John Franklin there. It also marks the 150th anniversary of Sir Francis Leopold McClintock’s voyage aboard the yacht Fox.

Admiral Sir Frances Leopold McClintock has several portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, London.


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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.