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The Sad Fate of Tom Crean’s Friend

 The need to escape

Tom Crean’s is an epic story and its beginnings were born out of a need to better his fortunes at a time when there were no opportunities to do so in his homeland. Like Crean, many young boys took the same route and I want to impart one such example of a boy, Tom Crean’s friend, Thomas Sullivan, whose fortunes contrasted sharply with Tom Crean’s. It’s one I came upon when searching for information for the book and because he’s not a public figure his name would be lost on all but his descendants but he could be any one of a large number who suffered the same fate.

He joined the Navy just three weeks after Tom Crean in 1893 and both boys almost certainly knew one another as Thomas Sullivan was born in Ballynacourty close to Gortacurraun where Crean was born. Thomas Sullivan did actually join as a 15-year-old, being born a year later than Tom Crean in 1878 – you’ll notice here another opportunity for me to put to bed the myth that 15-year-olds couldn’t join the Navy – they could and had no need to lie.

The perfect conditions for diseases to thrive

Both boys trained together aboard HMS Impregnable at a time when the passing on of infections was easier under the right conditions. Those conditions were perfect aboard HMS Impregnable where 1600 boys slept in overcrowded conditions on the lower decks without sunlight and where their surroundings were damp, cold and dark – it was an ideal place for diseases such as Phthisis to thrive.

The Sad Fate of Tom Crean's Friend Tom Crean Book
Photo Credit to – RN COMMUNICATIONS BRANCH MUSEUM/LIBRARY

More commonly known today as Tuberculosis, Tom Crean’s friend, Sullivan contracted it during a period when the harsh training enlisted boys were subject to, came with the added threat of corporal punishment for the slightest misdemeanour. Their ‘crime’ could be anything from a having loose bootlaces, leaving a kitbag in the wrong place or something just as trivial.
Tom Crean and his friend from Ballynacourty would, likely have suffered for their petty misdemeanours by being held down over a short wooden platform while the Master-at-Arms, lashed their backsides 12 times with a cane – carried out as a spectacle witnessed by the ship’s company on the upper deck.

If you had the right constitution you could see it out – Tom Crean did, but for boys such as Thomas Sullivan the harsh training came at a time when his immune system was already under attack. On his naval record his character was noted as being ‘Very Good’ but it was a very short record of just 10 months duration after which he was invalided from the Navy.
He would return home to Kerry and would spend the next two years of his short life suffering in a bed before finally succumbing to the disease he’d likely developed three years earlier when travelling in hope of a better life.

The fate of Tom Crean’s friend really saddened me after learning what happened but it must have weighed particularly heavy on the mind of Tom Crean and his record reflects his disillusionment in the pre-Antarctic days of his career. It’s likely he considered desertion but fate would though, play a better card for him when he travelled aboard HMS Ringarooma to New Zealand in 1901. It was there he found his calling as Antarctica beckoned.

Below, HMS Impregnable, where it all began and for some, where it all ended.

The Sad Fate of Tom Crean's Friend Tom Crean Book

The biographies below, one written for adults and one for children aged 6-10 years old, cover the life and career of Tom Crean and include a host of new information that has given rise to official revisions of his story. Inaccuracies that appear in other accounts of his life have, in these accounts, been replaced by the facts.

Clicking on the images will take you to the pages you can read reviews and purchase the books.

The Sad Fate of Tom Crean's Friend Tom Crean BookThe Sad Fate of Tom Crean's Friend Tom Crean Book

Because of my research Tom Crean's story has changed so do please share the posts.
 
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