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Joseph Foster Stackhouse – Shackleton’s rival for Tom Crean’s services

When Tom Crean was headhunted

Surprisingly absent from the timeline of Tom Crean’s story until I got stuck into my research for Crean’s biography, is a man called Joseph Foster Stackhouse. Born in 1873 to a Quaker family in Kendal, the gateway to England’s Lake District, Stackhouse had been a close friend of Captain Scott and it was Scott, who had urged him to one day chart the largely unexplored King Edward VII land in Antarctica.

In October 1913, Stackhouse announced plans to head up the British Antarctic Expedition and his plans enjoyed the backing of Sir Clements Markham, the former President of the Royal Geographic Society who had long championed exploration of Antarctica.

The expedition, it was proposed, would depart on August 1st 1914 and a number of former members of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition would be recruited for the mission. Among the names initially mentioned in an announcement made on February 3rd 1914, was Tom Crean, who, it was reported: “would probably be the Boatswain”  By February 18th 1914, Crean’s inclusion as Boatswain for the expedition was confirmed. The ship Stackhouse had secured for the expedition was RRS Discovery, a vessel Crean was familiar with having tread her decks on his maiden expedition to Antarctica in 1901.

It’s clear that Stackhouse valued Crean’s abilities and when the expedition had first been announced the previous year, he staked his claim for the Kerryman in a call out that revealed his intention to recruit Crean was a priority.

“One of the finest feats in Scott’s Expedition was Crean’s walk of thirty-five miles to get help for Commander Evans. He walked along all those miles at a stretch, though ten miles of such a walk would have sent hundreds of men clean out of their minds. But Crean is an Irishman with an incorrigible sense of humour and it was this that carried him through. There should be an Irishman in every expedition.”

Before the turn of the previous year on December 29th 1913, another expedition leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton, announced his ambitious plans to traverse Antarctica from coast to coast from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea. His plans included the use of two ships, the Endurance, a ship he’d purchased and with a crew whose mission was to lay supply depots from the opposite side to help achieve the goal, he had secured the vessel SY Aurora.

Joseph Foster Stackhouse - Shackleton's rival for Tom Crean's services Tom Crean BookStackhouse’s plans would have no crossover with Shackleton’s expedition and this appeared to have been thrashed out when the two leaders spoke to one another about their plans.

It’s likely also, that at that meeting, a certain Tom Crean was on the agenda as both men wanted to recruit the services of the Kerryman who’d earned huge admiration among the polar community after his life-saving march to save the life of Edward Evans. Both leaders were particularly keen to have Crean accompany them and in today’s terms, we could say that Tom Crean was ‘headhunted’.

Some accounts I’ve read have wrongly stated that Stackhouse postponed his 1914 expedition to Antarctica because of the outbreak of war. It was though almost 4 months earlier in mid-April 1914, when Stackhouse announced new plans to sail south in November 1914 or in the following year. There’s no indication at this time as to whether Crean had pulled out and his intentions only became clear in a public announcement on June 23rd, that confirmed him as Second Officer to Shackleton’s Endurance.  It happened to be the day before, on June 22nd that Stackhouse publicly announced a change of plan. His new mission would morph into a seven-year voyage commencing in December 1915. Tom Crean, not wishing to commit to a seven-year trip and possibly with an assurance from Shackleton that he would be one of the party to make the historic crossing of Antarctica, changed his own plans to take up Shackleton’s offer.

Crean made his decision to join Shackleton between April and 25th May 1914, the date he was ledgered to HMS President and seconded by the Admiralty to Shackleton’s expedition.

So, what became of Joseph Foster Stackhouse?

In August 1914, Stackhouse travelled to the USA on a tour to win backing and support for his new expedition. His bid to win over the Americans was deemed a success and the expedition was to be a joint enterprise – an oceanographic survey corps in which both British and US research bodies would collaborate. With their headquarters in Washington, Stackhouse announced an interesting new addition to his plans. Discovery would travel to Greenland and to Iceland before heading off the coast of Newfoundland to investigate the reasons behind the sinking of the Titanic two years earlier in 1912.

Joseph Foster Stackhouse - Shackleton's rival for Tom Crean's services Tom Crean Book It was Stackhouse’s belief that a part of Newfoundland had broken off from the mainland and had drifted down there forming a lodging place for icebergs. With his plans now in place, he sailed back to Britain to collect his wife and daughter before heading back to the US to make final preparations.

Sadly, he never made it across the Atlantic after the ship he’d boarded in New York on May 1st 1915, was torpedoed by a German U-Boat. Lusitania  was struck 11 miles off the coast of Kinsale, Ireland on May 7th.

Joseph Foster Stackhouse’s final acts aboard Lusitania as she sank formed his own story of selfless bravery and it’s one is one I’ve expanded upon in my biography of Tom Crean.

His body was later recovered and a Quaker graveyard in Cobh, County Cork, is the final resting place of another hero.

Researching and writing Crean’s Life Story

Joseph Foster Stackhouse - Shackleton's rival for Tom Crean's services Tom Crean BookMy book, Crean — The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero, has been as much a labour of love for me as it has been a passion to see Tom Crean awarded the recognition he deserves from the country he loved.

For 3½ years I researched Crean’s story at some of the world’s most respected archives to be able to chronicle his story. In doing so I’ve unearthed a substantial amount of new information never before published about this incredible man and I became aware of many errors that exist in the existing timeline of his life.

In mid-2020 I presented a 7,000 word document and three folders containing files and sub-folders of the sources I used as references and notes to write the book. Used as evidence of inaccuracies and missing information, this was submitted to the Royal Irish Academy after I offered to share the research I’ve gathered over the period of my investigating Crean’s life in preparation for writing his biography.

In an update of huge importance, on October 2nd, 2020, I received confirmation from the Royal Irish Academy, that the entry for Tom Crean in the internationally recognised, Dictionary of Irish Biography, would be revised in light of the evidence I provided them. Substantial revisions to Crean’s story were officially announced on March 17th 2021.

Joseph Foster Stackhouse - Shackleton's rival for Tom Crean's services Tom Crean BookFor children, and because existing children’s books about Crean also contain a number of inaccuracies, I have written a book specifically for 6-10 year-olds. Tom The Mighty Explorer. The book is based on my findings while researching Crean’s life. The story contains 27 fully illustrated images, 4 maps and a fun interactive section.

To discover more about Tom Crean and how to purchase the books you can read more at  https://tomcreanbook.com/about-the-book/

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