Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sir Ernest Shackleton and Francis Kennedy Pease



In the early hours of the morning of the 5th of January 1922 the Kilkea born explorer Ernest Shackleton died on his ship the Quest, anchored off the island of South Georgia. He was 47 years of age. On learning of his death, his wife, Lady Shackleton decided it would be more appropriate that he would be buried in South Georgia in the area to which he journeyed so often. Shackleton was buried in the cemetery in Grytviken, South Georgia and the crew of his ship erected a simple wooden cross over his grave.

This would remain his grave marker for a number of years and Alastair Hardy a zoologist, visiting Shackleton's grave in 1926 was shocked to find it had no proper headstone. This was remedied the following year when the ship RSS Discovery on an expedition to study the biology of the Antarctic waters delivered to South Georgia a headstone for Shackleton's grave. The Discovery was the ship on which Shackleton had first sailed to the Antarctic in 1902 as an officer on Captain Robert Falcon Scotts first Antarctic expeditition.

Fittingly a member of the crew of the RSS Discovery was the Kildare born Francis Kennedy Pease. Kennedy, a young midshipman, was born in the Curragh on the 13th of February 1908 where his father Major Charles Pease was an officer in the British Army. 

The Captain of the Discovery, J R Stenhouse, who had served with Shackleton, and being a relation of Pease secured Pease a place in the crew. Pease himself had met Shackleton as a schoolboy and wrote “I, myself, had met Shackleton. It was years before, when I was a boy, aged 15, a pupil of St. Helen's College, South Sea and I had had the great privilage of been presented to him. He was then just departing on one of his expedititions to the Antarctic. It was he who first inspired me with desire for Polar Exploration. Looking at him I thought how wonderful, it would be to be a man like him.”

In his book 'To the Ends of the Earth' he recorded the ceremony in which Shackleton's headstone was installed “Most memorable, of all my South Georgia experiences was the unveiling of the tombstone on Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave. The grave was in the little cemetery at Grytviken, on the slope overlooking the harbour, and we had brought the tombstone in the Discovery from England as far as the Falkland islands, where it had been suitably engraved and then brought here to South Georgia. It was South Georgia's great day – her greatest day. All the whaling work was stopped for the occasion. The whale catchers came in from the sea; the little harbour was filled with their ships. In their hundreds the men lined the slopes about the little cemetary; old men and young, nearly all Norwegians, seabooted, heavy woollen gloves on their hands, thick mufflers about their throats. Almost all of them had known Shackleton. There were whale captains who had been his great friends – rugged, large hearted men. A hymn was sung - “Abide with me”. Leaflets containing the words in both English and Norweign had been supplied. There was no music, nor was any wanted. All hands sang with all their hearts. Their voices went over the snowclad slopes, resonant and deep. There was no mistaking the throb of it. Some of them who had known Shackleton closely found it hard to sing at all. I knew what they were feeling. At the end of the ceremony another hymn was sung, deep and resonant like the first and buglers in the guard of honour sounded the last post. The men were in no hurry to drift back to the whale work on their ships. They stood about the grave. The eyes of many were wet. Shackleton's grave was in the midst of the graves of seven whale captains and two Polar Explorers. There was something infinitely moving in the fact that he should be in such fitting company.”

Pease, after leaving the Discovery Expedition continued his Polar Exploration career with a period in the Arctic in 1934. After service in the Royal Air Force in World War II he spent the rest of his life as a landscape contractor dying in 1987. He enjoys the unique distinction of being the only other Kildare born Polar explorer who met Shackleton.

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