256. Tom Crean and His Peterson Pipes in the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration

Tom Crean (1877-1938), known affectionately as “the Irish Giant” by his shipmates, was a member of three expeditions to Antarctica during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration (1897-1922), distinguishing himself on all three and awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving for his solitary 56 kilometer walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans.

Crean with an unbanded dublin,
possibly the Peterson 120 B Long,
on the
Endurance Expedition, February 1915

The iconic photograph of Crean seen above shows him with an unmounted dublin, and since the release of a Crean commemorative dublin in K&P’s Great Explorers Collection almost twenty years ago there’s been a growing conviction that he smoked a Peterson. The Crean commemorative seen below is the largest of all the dublin shapes in K&P’s catalog, and among my favorites for being so.

Being Irish and proud of being so, Crean must have smoked Peterson pipes—or so goes the story in my head. In fact, a close examination of the readily available photos of Crean smoking a pipe, it does seem probable that at least two of the pipes he was photographed with on his Antarctic travels were Petes.

Crean (age 25) smoking what may be a Peterson Coronation Cad
aboard the
Discovery, September 1902

Born in County Kerry, Crean was one of eleven children and enlisted in the Royal Navy at 16, where he went through the ranks to able seaman, when he volunteered to serve under Robert Falcon Scott on the Discovery Expedition of 1901-04. Scott’s second-in-command described Crean as having “a fund of wit with an even temper which nothing disturbed.” In the Discovery crew photo he’s seen smoking an incredible short bulldog which looks like nothing so much as K&P’s “Coronation Cad” from the 1906 catalog. This shape has been seen on the estate market a few times and always elicits gasps of awe–certainly a shape that deserves to be reinstated!

K&P’s Coronation Cad (1906 catalog),
the ultimate full-chamber Peterson P-Lip Nosewarmer

 

Crean’s attitude and work ethic was noticed by Scott as well as his peers, so that he was among the first recruited for the Terra Nova expedition of 1910-13. That expedition would see Crean win the Albert Medal and lose his friend and commander Scott, who didn’t survive their attempt to reach the pole. It’s also the first time he’s spotted with what looks like the Peterson 120 Long he’s almost certainly photographed with later on.

Crean (right) from a photo of of the Terra Nova crew, October 1911

In 1912, Crean single-handedly rescued two of his comrades, Lieutenant Evans and Bill Lashley, in an epic journey of 35 miles from the base camp at Cape Armitage on Ross Island to the Evans-Lashley campsite. Crean is seen in the photo below, taken shortly after his return, smoking a large bent billiard. I’d like to say it’s a Pete, but there’s no corresponding period shape I can find in the catalogs. It looks like nothing so much as the Giant discussed a few posts back. Certainly the massive shank is typical of the Peterson house style.

Crean with a large bent billiard, February 1912

The first really good look at Crean’s dublin shape comes in a portrait of him with his close mate Alf Cheetham. This pipe threw me for a long time. Angles in photos can distort a pipe’s shape and make it difficult to determine. The smoke issuing from the bowl doesn’t help matters. But after going through the catalog for the nth time, it struck me that this must be the 1906 120 B Long.

Alf Cheetham and Tom Crean, 1914:
I believe this is the Peterson 120 B Long

The 120 B Long Dublin (1906 catalog)

The most extraordinary event occurred in Crean’s third Antarctic adventure in the Imperial-Trans-Antarctic Expedition aboard the Endurance. After the ship had been stranded then lost in an icepack and the crew trekked overland then sailed to Elephant Island, Crean, Shackleton and Frank Worsley were given the task of effecting a rescue for the remaining 22-man crew by sailing 800 nautical miles in stormy winter seas using a 23 foot long open boat, the James Caird. The voyage began on Easter Monday, 1916, the same day as the Easter Rising against the British back in Ireland. In one of the greatest sailing feats of recorded history, they made it to South Georgia Island on May 10th only to face a 36-hour, 64 kilometer non-stop hike across the mountainous interior of the glacier-covered island to the whaling station.

“Mother” Crean with his pups and the Peterson 120 Long

For all his heroics, which Crean performed with a kind of quiet humility and nonchalance, what most reveals the heart of the man to me was his job as “Mother.” His crewmates gave him the nickname after he was assigned to take care of the sledding dogs. A dog-handler was supposed to have shipped with the crew but at the last minute failed to show, which would have dire consequences later on, as no one understood dog-sledding. Crean, however, took up the care of the ship’s dogs and became “foster father” to a litter of their pups, according to Shackleton, making sure they went out for exercise and training them in the rudiments of sled-pulling. After the Endurance dropped through the ice, the crew was forced to leave behind all inessentials, including the pups. Crean was ordered to shoot them. He felt it was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do, but somehow he did it.

In the photo with the pups, the pipe still looks amazingly large, but I’m thinking it’s the angle it’s being photographed from. It’s certainly the same pipe he was seen with in the portrait with his pal Cheetham.

Elsewhere I’ve remarked that in Frank Hurley’s earlier photographs of Crean, his dublin hds a metal band while in the later photographs the dublin he smokes is unmounted. Keeping in mind that the Endurance and her crew spent 492 days on the ice, the pipe would have become more battered. Eventually it may have lost  its band, either to the sub-zero temperatures or in one of the many instances where Crean and others would appropriate bits and scraps of metal to refit them for survival needs. I believe the pipe seen in the iconic photograph at the top of the post is the identical pipe as the banded dublin, especially since the unbanded pipe photo was taken later on.

South Pole Inn, County Kerry (2019)

The director of the Kerry County Museum in Tralee, not far from Crean’s birthplace, told me the family did not forward any of Crean’s pipes with his other effects and memorabilia which make up the “Tom Crean Room” of museum’s amazing exhibition, which was remodeled and opened anew in February 2020. Some of Crean’s pipes, I’ve heard, were on display for years at the South Pole Inn, the pub Crean opened after retiring from the British navy. The director also said that the one thing the museum doesn’t have is the one thing every visitor wants to see who visits the exhibition: Crean’s pipe.

Tom Crean Room, remodeled in February 2020

At this point, there’s probably no way of documenting whether or not he smoked Peterson pipes, until and unless a fellow Pete-lover comes forward with photographs of the Inn from pre-nanny state Ireland with unmistakable proof of the P-Lips. But that doesn’t really deter me in my belief. Until then, I’ll take a straight dublin over a straight billiard any day of the week—that V-shaped chamber does wonderful things no other pipe chamber can do for my tobacco. You can’t get a more Irish straight pipe than a dublin, and if it’s not a K&P dublin, it’s not really Irish, is it? Sometimes, as we say in Narnia, believing is seeing.

Crean with the 120 B Long after resting up
from his trek to save Evans and Lashley, March 1912

Unlike the universally-acclaimed straight billiard, the straight dublin has always attracted a smaller number of smokers–which is fitting, given that K&P has always appealed to a different sort of pipeman. If you’ve ever companioned a straight Dublin, do let me know how it works, worked or didn’t work for you in the comments section. We’re unlikely to see any new straight dublins in the Peterson catalog until they hear from us.

 

 

PARTING SHOT

One of my favorite artists, Leslie Irwin, dropped by the other day. Looking through some of her recent work, I found this. She had no idea Crean was one of my great heroes! Thanks, Les.

 

 

eBAY’S UK GLOBAL SHIPPING PROGRAM UPDATE:
The Problem and the Solution

Fellow Pete Geek Scott sent me a message this week that everyone should be aware of regarding eBay’s UK Global Shipping Program: “I just had another Peterson meerschaum pipe swiped by GSP (the other five are currently for sale again on ebay – go figure).   Apparently no pipe is safe being shipped from the UK via GSP.” We need to be aware of the problem and how to work around it, so do read the letter from eBay to “Cecil” and the follow-up on how to keep our UK connection vital from Geoff Watson:

Here was eBay’s reply to Scott:

Dear Cecil,

Thank you for taking the time to contact the eBay Global Shipping Programme (GSP) Department. My name is Ailbhe and I am happy to help you today. I’m so sorry we have not been able to deliver ‘K&P Pipe’ (125012324703) you recently purchased through the Global Shipping Programme. Please allow me to explain what has happened as I understand your concern.

After talking to our third party distributor Pitney Bowes, we have been informed that the item could not be delivered because the shipment contained items that were found to be import restricted. Pipes are considered drug paraphernalia under 21 U.S.C. § 863.  While there are many uses for pipes,  we unfortunately cannot confirm what these will be used for.

So what happens next? If an item arrives to our GSP shipping hub and is found to be restricted for shipment, our hub will not proceed with the shipment and will “Liquidate” (i.e. sell – not destroy) the item and issue you with a refund. In situations like this we do not return the item to the seller as we have refunded you from eBay funds and will now liquidate the item to a specialist 3rd party liquidation company to re-coup some of our costs. eBay are not party to the liquidation process.

More information can be found in our UK Global Shipping Programme Terms and Conditions:

http://pages.ebay.co.uk/shipping/globalshipping/seller-tnc.html
http://pages.ebay.co.uk/shipping/globalshipping/buyer-tnc.html

You may also find the following link helpful:
https://sellercentre.ebay.co.uk/postage/global-shipping-programme

I trust I have explained this clearly to you Cecil. Believe me when I say if there was anything more I could do I would certainly do it.

Take care and stay safe.

Kind Regards
Ailbhe
eBay Global Shipping

 

Geoff Watson, an outstanding pipe restorationist who lives in the UK, supplied this very important rejoinder to eBay–do read this if you (like most of us) look to the UK to find our beloved estate Petes:

If I may, I would like to expand on your comments regarding ebay’s GSP. Brits who rely on pipe sales to put food on tables and roofs over heads, have had a dire couple of years resulting from the loss of the EU markets. Whilst I absolutely agree that this information needs to be out there, incidents presented carelessly without proper context will inevitably lead to an internet conspiracy-led conclusion that all pipe sales from the UK are unsafe. That is absolutely not the case.

Every pipe seller in the UK worth their salt (and many who aren’t) knows not to send GSP. I never have, and never will, and I have never lost a pipe sent to the US. I strongly advise that US buyers NOT buy from sellers who use GSP for pipes, but please don’t tar us all with the same brush – just add it to your pre-purchase due diligence (like seller feedback etc.). It is also worth mentioning that buyers receive a refund – sellers lose the lot (ergo, pipe sellers don’t use it).

 

 

 

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