b. 20/07/1877 Gurtuchrane, County Kerry, Ireland. d. 27/07/1938 Cork, Ireland.
DATE OF AM ACTION: 09-19/02/1912 Antarctica.
Thomas Crean was born in 1877 in the farming area of Gurtuchrane near the village of Annascaul on Corca Dhuibhne in County Kerry, Ireland, to Patrick and Catherine (née Courtney) Crean. One of ten siblings, he attended the local Catholic school (at nearby Brackluin), leaving at the age of 12 to help on the family farm.
At the age of 15, he enlisted in the Royal Navy at the naval station in nearby Minard Inlet, possibly after an argument with his father. His enlistment as a boy second class is recorded in Royal Navy records on 10 July 1893, ten days before his 16th birthday, albeit without his parents’ consent.
Crean’s initial naval apprenticeship was aboard the training ship Impregnable at Devonport. In November 1894, he was transferred to Devastation. By his 18th birthday, in 1895, Crean was serving in Royal Arthur, and rated ordinary seaman. Less than a year later, he was in Wild Swan as an able seaman, and later joined the Navy’s torpedo school ship, Defiance. By 1899, Crean had advanced to the rate of petty officer, second class and was serving in Vivid. In February 1900, Crean was posted to the torpedo vessel Ringarooma, which was part of the Royal Navy’s New Zealand Squadron based in the South Island. On 18 December 1901, he was demoted from petty officer to able seaman for an unspecified misdemeanour. In December 1901, the Ringarooma was ordered to assist Robert Falcon Scott’s ship Discovery when it was docked at Lyttelton Harbour awaiting to departure to Antarctica. When an able seaman of Scott’s ship deserted after striking a petty officer, a replacement was required; Crean volunteered, and was accepted.
Tom Crean was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during what is known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, including Robert Falcon Scott’s 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition. This saw the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen and ended in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition, Crean’s 35 statute miles (56 km) solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans led to him receiving the Albert Medal.
After his experience on the Terra Nova, Crean’s third and final Antarctic venture was as second officer on Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. After the ship Endurance became beset in the pack ice and sank, Crean and the ship’s company spent 492 days drifting on the ice before a journey in boats to Elephant Island. He was a member of the crew which made a small boat journey of 800 nautical miles (1,500 km) from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island, to seek aid for the stranded party.
At the end of a journey of 1,500 miles on foot the final supporting party to the late Captain Scott’s expedition towards the South Pole, consisting of Lieutenant Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russeli Evans, R.N. (now Commander Evans, C.B.), Chief Stoker William Lashley, R.N., and Petty Officer (First Class) Thomas Crean, R.N., were 238 miles from the base when Lieutenant Evans was found to be suffering from scurvy. His condition rapidly became worse. When 151 miles from the base he was unable to stand without support on his ski sticks, and after struggling onward on skis in great pain for four days, during which Lashley and Crean dragged their sledge fifty-three miles, he collapsed, and was unable to proceed further. At this point Lieutenant Evans requested his two companions to leave him, urging that eighty-three miles lay between the party and the nearest refuge hut, and that unless they left him three lives would be lost instead of one. This, however, they refused to do, and insisted on carrying him forward on the sledge. Favoured by a southerly wind, Lashley and Crean dragged Lieutenant Evans on the sledge for four days, pulling for thirteen hours a day, until, on the evening of February 17, 1912, a point was reached thirty-four miles from a refuge hut, where it was thought possible that assistance might be obtained. During the following twelve hours, however, snow fell incessantly, and in the morning it was found impossible to proceed further with the sledge. As the party now had only sufficient food for three more meals, and both Lashley and Crean were becoming weaker daily, it was decided that they should separate, and that Crean should endeavour to walk to the refuge hut, while Lashley stayed to nurse Lieutenant) Evans. After a march of eighteen hours in soft snow Crean made his way to the hut, arriving completely exhausted. Fortunately Surgeon Edward L. Atkinson, R.N., was at the hut with two dog teams and the dog attendant. His party, on February 20, effected the rescue of Lieutenant Evans and Lashley. But for the gallant conduct throughout of his two companions Lieutenant Evans would have undoubtedly lost his life.
BURIAL LOCATION: BALLYNACOURTY CEMETERY, ANASCAUL, COUNTY KERRY, IRELAND.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: KERRY COUNTY MUSEUM, TRALEE, COUNTY KERRY, IRELAND.