Tom Crean

Tom Crean had caught Captain Scott's attention with his attitude and work ethic on the Discovery Expedition, and in 1906 Scott requested that Tom Crean join him on Victorious. Over the next few years the faithful and dependable Tom Crean followed Captain Scott successively to Albemarle, Essex and Bulwark. By 1907, Captain Scott was planning his second expedition to the Antarctic. Naturally Captain Scott held Tom Crean in high regard so he was among the first people recruited for the Terra Nova Expedition, which set out for the Antarctic in June 1910, and one of the few men in the party with previous polar experience.



Expedition's Arrival

After the expedition's arrival in McMurdo Sound in January 1911, Tom Crean was as part of the 13-man team who established "One Ton Depot",130 statute miles (210 km) from Hut Point so named because of the large amount of food and equipment cached there on the projected route to the South Pole. Returning from the depot to base camp at Cape Evans Tom Crean, accompanied by Apsley Cherry-Garrard and Henry "Birdie" Bowers, experienced near-disaster when camping on unstable sea ice. During the night the ice broke up, leaving the men adrift on an ice floe and separated from their sledges. Tom Crean probably saved the group's lives, by leaping from floe to floe until he reached the Barrier edge and was able to summon help.

November 1911 

Tom Crean departed with Captain Scott in November 1911, for the attempt at the South Pole. This journey had three stages: 400 statute miles (640 km) across the Barrier, 120 statute miles (190 km) up the heavily crevassed Beardmore Glacier to an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, and then another 350 statute miles (560 km) to the Pole. At regular intervals, supporting parties returned to base; Tom Crean was in the final group of eight men that marched on to the polar plateau and reached 87°32'S, 168 statute miles (270 km) from the



4 January 1912

Here, on 4 January 1912, Scott selected his polar party: Tom Crean, William Lashly and Edward Evans were ordered to return to base, while Captain Scott, Edgar Evans, Edward Wilson, Bowers and Lawrence Oates continued to the pole. Tom Crean's biographer Michael Smith suggests that Tom Crean would have been a better choice for the polar party than Edgar Evans, who was weakened by a recent hand injury (of which Scott was unaware). Tom Crean, considered one of the toughest men in the expedition, had led a pony across the Barrier and had thus been saved much of the hard labour of man-hauling. Captain Scott in his diary recorded that Tom Crean wept with disappointment at the prospect of having to turn back, so close to the goal.


Soon after heading north on the 700-statute-mile (1,100 km) journey back to base camp, Tom Crean's party lost the trail back to the Beardmore Glacier, and were faced with a long detour around a large icefall. With food supplies short, and needing to reach their next supply depot, the group made the decision to slide on their sledge, uncontrolled, down the icefall. The three men slid 2,000 feet (600 m), dodging crevasses up to 200 feet (61 m) wide, and ending their descent by overturning on an ice ridge. Evans later wrote: "How we ever escaped entirely uninjured is beyond me to explain".



The gamble

The gamble at the icefall succeeded, and the men reached their depot two days later. However, they had great difficulty navigating down the glacier. Lashly wrote: "I cannot describe the maze we got into and the hairbreadth escapes we have had to pass through." In his attempts to find the way down, Evans removed his goggles and subsequently suffered agonies of snow blindness that made him into a passenger.


When the party was finally free of the glacier and on the level surface of the Barrier, Evans began to display the first symptoms of scurvy. By early February he was in great pain, his joints were swollen and discoloured, and he was passing blood. Through the efforts of Tom Crean and Lashly the group struggled towards One Ton Depot, which they reached on 11 February. At this point Evans collapsed; Tom Crean thought he had died and, according to Evans's account, "his hot tears fell on my face".



100 statute miles

With over 100 statute miles (160 km) still to travel before the relative safety of Hut Point, Tom Crean and Lashly began hauling Evans on the sledge, "eking out his life with the last few drops of brandy that they still had with them". On 18 February they arrived at Corner Camp, still 35 statute miles (56 km) from Hut Point, with only one or two days' food rations left and still four or five days' man-hauling to do. They then decided that Tom Crean should go on alone, to fetch help.

Hut Point

With only a little chocolate and three biscuits to sustain him, without a tent or survival equipment, Tom Crean walked the distance to Hut Point in 18 hours, arriving in a state of collapse to find Atkinson there, with the dog driver Dmtri Gerov. Tom Crean reached safety just ahead of a fierce blizzard, which probably would have killed him, and which delayed the rescue party by a day and a half. Atkinson led a successful rescue, and Lashly and Evans were both brought to base camp alive. Tom Crean modestly played down the significance of his feat of endurance. In a rare written account, he wrote in a letter: "So it fell to my lot to do the 30 miles for help, and only a couple of biscuits and a stick of chocolate to do it. Well, sir, I was very weak when I reached the hut."



Scott's party

Scott's party failed to return. The winter of 1912 at Cape Evans was a sombre one, with the knowledge that the polar party had undoubtedly perished. Frank Debenham wrote that "in the winter it was once again Crean who was the mainstay for cheerfulness in the now depleted mess deck part of the hut." In November 1912, Tom Crean was one of the 11-man search party that found the remains of the polar party. On 12 November they spotted a cairn of snow, which proved to be a tent against which the drift had piled up. It contained the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers. Tom Crean later wrote, referring to Captain Scott in understated fashion that he had "lost a good friend".

Surviving members

Upon returning to England the surviving members of the expedition were awarded Polar Medals by King George Tom Crean and Lashly were both awarded the Albert Medal, 2nd Class for saving Evans's life, these were presented by the King at Buckingham Palace on 26 July 1913.