In his new book, Tim Foley sheds light on Tom Crean’s often mysterious life, his early years and naval career as well as his famous Antarctic expeditions

Donning a weather-worn twin-peaked beanie, with a bristled jawline hosting a firmly clenched pipe jutting out through gritted teeth, and with piercing grey eyes staring directly down the lens, the iconic photograph of Tom Crean, taken by Frank Hurley in 1915, offers no hint of anything other than a tough as teak mariner displaying an air of utter fearlessness.

It’s an image that fits the story of his unrivalled acts of courage in the harshest environment on earth yet behind that seemingly steel exterior, there lay other sides to Tom Crean.
The recollections of his colleagues reveal an extremely sensitive side which saw him openly express sorrow and disappointment.

He was never afraid to show his feelings and among the first examples we encounter occurred when Scott conjured up a timely excuse for not taking him to the South Pole because of a slight cough. Crean, catching on immediately to Scott’s timely deception, made sure his captain was left in no doubt that he could see through the feeble blag, responding, “I know a half-sung song when I hear one.”
We learn too of Crean weeping over his dead Captain after discovering Scott’s body in the tent, stating, ‘I loved every hair on his head.”

In his book South With Scott, Edward Evans recalls feeling Crean’s ‘hot tears’ fall upon his face as he lay close to death.

Thanks to Crean’s historic solo march, Evans survived and would later dedicate his book to Crean and William Lashly, the hardy stoker who nursed him during Crean’s trek.
On St Patrick’s Day, 1914, nine months after the return of the ill-fated Terra Nova expedition, to a packed audience at New York’s Carnegie Hall, Evans would reveal the words Crean uttered to him when he begged both men to continue on without him and save themselves. If there’s one phrase that typified the person Crean was, the words, “if you go out sir, we all go out together” exemplified it.

Crean’s sensitivity and compassion extended beyond that shown to his fellow human beings.
He was a huge animal lover and the stories we’re aware of, reflect his love for them in a world long before animal rights and our protection of them came into existence.
He was a man ahead of his time in many ways. On his expeditions he played surrogate father to both rabbits and puppies and his immense pride in the role was evident, as can be seen on the cover of this biography.

Though the expeditions sometimes called for animals, horses, dogs, to be put down for the survival of the crew, it was a task that must have played havoc with Crean’s emotions. Any loss of life was devastating to a man whose stock in trade was saving them.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own