8 February 2012

Men of Action: Tom Crean and The Discovery Expedition

On this day over 100 years ago, one of The Wild Geese had arrived in the Antarctic and began an adventure that would define his career and place his name among the great veteran explorers of the polar regions.

A few weeks ago we explored Tom Crean's contribution to the Terra Nova Expedition (1910 - 1912), when he walked 35 miles in near white-out, freezing conditions to bring back help for his sick team mate Lt. Evans. It was during the Discovery Expedition, when this heroism started to show.

Tom Crean joined the Discovery Expedition in New Zealand, where the expedition's leader, Captain Robert Scott had docked his ship to fit his ship and replenish her crew. From the moment Crean joined the expedition, Scott was impressed, and as they set sail for the Antarctic the world was at Tom's feet.

Captain Scott remarked about Crean and his ship mate from the HMS Ringarooma: 'I like the look of these two... and think they will do well'

The Discovery arrived in the Antarctic on the 8th February 1902 and established a base at 'Hut Point'. From here the expedition collected scientific information. Tom Crean was mostly assigned to sledging journeys and set up depots for exploration of the polar region.

As the expedition continued, Crean grew to be a prominent member of the team. This was his first experience of the Antarctic, but the inhospitable conditions didn't phase him. Instead he got stuck in, spurred on by the hard work that was needed to survive in the region.

Sledging was the only method of transport across the land, and was extremely hard work. It demanded man-hauling equipment and supplies across the snow and ice in order to set up supply depots. During the entire exhibition, Crean sledged for a total of 149 days.

Although the Discovery expedition was relatively free from the tragedies of Terra Nova, Crean was faced with significant risk, especially since he was a novice.

- Captain Scott's memoirs 

It was Crean's healthy attitude which ensured he adapted to the harsh environment and was valued by the team. Albert Armitage wrote:

In the winter of 1902, the Discovery had become locked in the ice. Trapped, some of the expedition members left on board a relief ship, but Crean opted to stay and help free the ship. In February 1904, the ship was freed. 

Like the original Wild Geese, Crean had an intrepid spirit. He journeyed to the Antarctic, and despite the dangerous environment he found himself in, became an incredibly important member of the team. He found his feet during the Discovery expedition and adapted to the hard work very well. So much so, that Captain Scott chose him for his next expedition - the Terra Nova - when he would prove himself in a dramatic life or death situation. 

Upon his return to Europe, he received a Silver Medal from the Royal Geographical Society for his contribution to the Discovery expedition. Clemants Markham noted Crean as:

Crean's story reflects that of the original Wild Geese, who braved new environments to be successful. Like The Wild Geese in 1691, Tom Crean's adventure was only just beginning. He was soon to become a veteran of the Antarctic and a hero. 

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