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Tom Crean – Why this biography is different

Since releasing the book, I’ve often been asked what is there to discover about Tom Crean that we don’t already know. How is this biography different to previous accounts of Crean’s life?

It’s important for me to answer that and without spoiling the book for those who haven’t yet read it, I’ll cover a number of things in the bullet points below that distinguish my account of Crean’s life. Firstly I want to emphasise that the book is a comprehensive biography that was researched thoroughly.  When we account for the additional new information I discovered after releasing the first edition in 2018, the time I’ve spent in researching and writing the book accounts for over three years.

In 2020 I submitted all of my research to the Royal Irish Academy and after examination, they validated my sources. This gave rise to a substantial revision of the official entry for Tom Crean in the Dictionary of Irish Biography and those changes were applied in March 2021.

All that’s written within the pages are verified by the sources that accompany the note references and the book is an accurate, standalone account of Tom Crean’s life as far as I was able to document it.

  • There’s no disputing Tom Crean’s handwriting completed the birthdate in his Naval record but an anomaly that existed on many Naval records of the time is that incorrect birthdates were often given – it’s unclear why and it’s more than likely that a person’s true birthdate wasn’t something many were aware of. What is clear is that documentary evidence points to the fact that Crean was born in February 1877 and with the help of baptismal records, I discovered evidence that helps pinpoints Crean’s birthdate to 16th February 1877 or shortly before. Tom Crean - Why this biography is different Tom Crean Book
  • Crean himself, confirmed he was 16 when he joined the Navy as can be seen in the newspaper clipping here the left, in a statement he made in 1931. He was in fact almost 16½ years old when he signed up. Boys recruits in the late nineteenth century were able to, and were encouraged to join the Navy from the age of 15 years old, the lowest age for enlistment as can be seen in the following recruitment ad from 1892, a year before Tom Crean signed on the dotted line. Tom Crean - Why this biography is different Tom Crean Book
  • Tom Crean was one of 11 children born to Catherine and Patrick Crean. He was the seventh born and he had 7 brothers, Hugh, Daniel, John, Patrick, Cornelius, Michael and Martin and 3 sisters, Mary, Joanna and Catherine. For those keen on family history who are seeking a link between themselves and Crean, I have delved into Tom Crean’s siblings and what became of them. Other than their birth records, I could find no further information about Tom’s brothers John and Patrick but I was able to discover more about the rest of his siblings and this is documented in a section of Tom Crean related matter in the Appendix of the book. The second and third editions contain updated information on Crean’s two younger brothers, Michael and Martin.
  • Tom Crean’s Naval career commenced with an assignment to the Americas where he spent 3 and a half years serving on the Pacific Station. Among the notable events for the 18-year-old occurred in Nicaragua on this, his first seagoing assignment. The international incident occurred when Crean was serving aboard HMS Royal Arthur in 1895, 4 years before he stepped aboard RRS Discovery on his first expedition to Antarctica. Along with other events that happened during his pre-Antarctic career, this biography carries an account of the incident and its outcome
  • On Crean’s return from his first expedition to Antarctica in 1904, one of three statements attributed to Sir Clements Markham about Tom Crean, relays that Crean’s mother had passed away, yet Catherine was still very much alive and she died 20 years later in 1924. It’s unclear why Markham would make such a statement but it was an incorrect gaff that entered the future chronicling of Crean’s life.
  • Two of Crean’s brothers, Hugh and Daniel, were left to run the family farm in the townland of Gortacurraun, a mile or so outside the village of Annascaul. In 1908 while Tom Crean was serving as coxswain to Captain Scott, tragedy struck as his brother Hugh, died of pneumonia. Daniel, who remained at Gortacurraun, was the only brother Crean was able to visit on his return after retirement and after the killing of his brother Cornelius in 1920. Daniel passed away in 1932 six years before his younger brother Tom.
  • Evidence came to light during my research that there was a rival for Tom Crean’s services prior to him accompanying Shackleton on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The story of Joseph Foster Stackhouse and his attempts to secure Crean for the British Antarctic Expedition of 1914 are transcribed in the book. It’s a story that has links to a heroic ending and to the loss of the Lusitania in 1915.
  • In early 1914, Tom Crean’s last seagoing assignment before heading off to Antarctica, was aboard HMS Enchantress, the yacht which was frequented by the First Lord of the Admiralty who happened to be Winston Churchill. The ledgers for this period show that Churchill and Crean were aboard the yacht at the same time.
  • As well as documenting Crean’s acts of heroism in four chapters entitled: Tom The Jumper, Tom The Walker, Tom The Sailor and Tom The Climber, I have included a number of stories recounted by those close to Crean, that offer us a greater insight into Tom Crean’s character. A section of what I uncovered dispels any belief that he kept a low-profile on his return in case of any reprisals for his tenure in the British Navy.
  • Crean returned to Annascaul in 1916 and purchased a single storey dwelling close to the bridge over the Owenascaul river. In 1917, after acquiring a licence to sell alcohol from the premises, it would later, after being rebuilt in 1929, become more familiar to readers as South Pole Inn.
  • Mystery surrounds an assignment Crean was involved with in early 1917 when he disembarked from HMS King Alfred in Sierra Leone. One day we may uncover the reasons but for now, we are left guessing I’m afraid and my own assumption is given in the book
  • Tom Crean’s sole engagement related to World War One came three days after it ended when he was assigned to HMS Inflexible and was present at the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow on 21st November 1918.
  • Records reveal that Tom Crean had an active role in service on HMS Fox during the expedition to Northern Russia in 1919 where the allies were on a mission to halt the advance of the Bolsheviks. ‘Mr Crean’, as he was now being addressed, was referred to in ship’s logs and in a letter sent by one of the men under his command. It is very likely that he was recommended to the expeditionary force by Shackleton yet Crean’s name never appeared alongside those former Endurance colleagues who were known to have been recommended by their former leader.
  • Despite there being a commonly held belief that Tom Crean may have been alienated by those volunteers who’d fought against British and the Black and Tans in the War of Independence, the truth is very different and I challenge this old perception in the book. Crean was reportedly paid a visit by the hated Black and Tans and this may have occurred after Crean stood shoulder to shoulder with his compatriots in a Tralee protest in 1920 against the maltreatment of Republican prisoners who’d gone on hunger strike in Mountjoy Jail.
  • The very first account of Tom Crean’s stories of heroism was written in 1952 and was most notable in that it wTom Crean - Why this biography is different Tom Crean Bookas written by a veteran of the Easter Rising of 1916. Writing under the pseudonym, ‘Denis Barry’, an account of this man’s back story is given in my book’s second (Special) edition. It was a surprising twist and was something I discovered in the period after writing up the first edition. There’s no doubt that the article entitled ‘Polar Crean’ which appeared in the Capuchin Annual, was the first comprehensive account to bring Crean’s story out of the shadows and had it gained more traction, Crean’s name and reputation would have enjoyed greater attention 48 years before his name came to the wider public’s notice.
  • Among the biggest thrills for me when researching for the book, was the discovery of two images of Tom Crean that the current generation will never have set eyes upon before. I purposely did not enhance them much because they provide an authenticity of the time in which they were taken.

There are a number of other facts and details that distinguish my biography of Crean from other accounts of his story and as such my account of Crean contradicts a number of the details presented as factual in other accounts. That just happens to be a by-product of the work any author undertakes when researching a work of history on a subject other authors had previously covered. Finding and transcribing missing gaps in Crean’s story often felt like I was discovering Tom Crean for the very first time when I assumed I already knew his story from the books I and others had read.

What I can say, as a result of writing the book, is that my findings were meticulously researched to provide the most accurate account I was able to of Tom Crean’s life and one that can be backed up by the references I include. That alone doesn’t make for a good read but I feel proud that I’ve written an account that focuses on the man himself and that has a chronological flow that I believe readers will enjoy.

Researching and writing Crean’s Life Story

Tom Crean - Why this biography is different 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.

Tom Crean - Why this biography is different 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 any of the formats of the books you can read more at

©Tim Foley 2021

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