SKELTON'S ANTARCTIC HERO.
JOHN ROBERT FRANCIS "FRANK" WILD CBE.
Frank Wild. 1873 - 1939.
Frank Wild was born on the 10th of April 1873 in Skelton.
SKELTON ORIGINS AND EXACT PLACE OF BIRTH A MYSTERY.
The 1871 census gives the family's address as "The Green".
Both his father, Benjamin, born Newcastle, and his mother, Mary gave their occupations as "Wesleyan School Teachers".
Thanks to the detective work of Owen Rooks, who has contributed much to this website, "The Green" has been shown to be almost certainly Skelton Green, rather than Cross Green.
By the time of the 1881 Census the Wild family had moved out of the Skelton area, but three families who were living close to them in 1871 appear on the 1881 census at 14, 16 and 19 Boosbeck Road, Skelton Green.
Tom Curnow in his book "Skelton and Its History" mentions that 20 Boosbeck Road had been used as a school, with one room containing 4 desks and the wall used as a blackboard.
The location of the Wesleyan School in Skelton has never been found and the above facts suggest that 20 Boosbeck Road was where the Wild family probably lived and taught and where Frank was born.
However, in 1875 an issue of the "Northern Echo" carried the following advertisement, showing a B Wild, Stationer at 129 High Street, Skelton:-
Frank Wild's birth certificate, kindly contributed by Howard Wilson of the Skelton History Society.
It would seem a great co-incidence if there were two B Wilds living in a comparatively small village at the same time.
Did Frank's father have a short-lived venture into the world of shop-keeping, or is this B Wild a different person ?
The 1861 census records Frank' father as a "Potter" and those after 1871 as a "Certificated Teacher".
Maybe he continued with his teaching role in Skelton and employed someone else to run the shop, as the occupant in the 1881 census is a George Todd, "Engine Fitter", but Elizabeth Todd, a daughter is listed as
Frank's brother Charles was born in Skelton in the September quarter of 1874 and the next child Mary Elizabeth was not born until the June quarter of 1876 in Lincolnshire.
So it is possible that in 1875 the family could have moved from the 1871 address on the "Green" to 129 High Street.
So Skelton can claim the place of birth of Frank, but he had moved on before he was ever personally aware of it.
In 1890 a Trade Directory shows the address still as a Stationers and by the 1901 census it was "uninhabited".
[In the year 2014, 129 High St is the Chemists and Post Office on the end of the terrace opposite the Wharton Arms.
When I was a young lad in Skelton during the Second World War, and for some years after, it was the "Food Office", where the populace went to collect their Ration Books, dried milk, orange juice and
cod liver oil.]
DESCENT FROM CAPTAIN COOK NOT TRUE - BUT WIDELY BELIEVED.
Frank Wild's mother, Mary, was a seamstresss and taught "Sowing" according to the 1881 census.
It is said that she claimed descent from the family of North Yorkshire's most famous son, Captain James Cook RN.
This is perhaps unlikely and was only in the imagination of Mrs Wild, who had been born with the surname Cook.
Neither Captain Cook nor his brother had any direct descendents.
Nevertheless, as the newspaper obituary on Frank here shows, the connection with Captain Cook was widely accepted as being true.
The Wild family, which grew to 12 children, moved via Stickford, Lincs , to Spilsby, Lincs , to Nettleton, Lincs , to Wheldrake, near York , to Evershholt, Beds [1886}.
During his childhood Frank must have heard and been inspired by many stories of Captain Cook's great feats of exploration, and he could well have grown up believing it to be true.
At the age of 16, Frank emulated Cook by joining the Merchant Navy.
His first vessel was the "Sobraon", at that time the largest fully rigged composite ship.
He eventually rose to Second Officer.
After 11 years travelling the globe, again like Cook, he transferred to the Royal Navy as a rating.
The 1901 census shows him as an Able Seaman, aged 27, on H.M.S Edinburgh.
CAPTAIN SCOTT'S 'DISCOVERY', 1901-4.
In 1901 Able Seaman Wild volunteered to join Capt Scott's expedition to the Antarctic on the "Discovery".
Much new territory was explored for the first time and Frank took part in at least one of these forays into the unknown, the first sledging party into the mountains, reaching a
height of 8900 feet.
It was 1904 before the party returned home, with the men living all this time in a hut and on board the ice-bound ship, which finally escaped its prison with the aid of two relief ships and blasting the ice
ERNEST SHACKLETON'S 'NIMROD', 1907-1909.
JUST 97 MILES FROM THE BEING THE HISTORICAL 'FIRST TO THE SOUTH POLE'.
Ernest Shackleton had been an Officer on the "Discovery" and recognised Frank Wild's capabilities for he chose him as part of his team on his own "Nimrod" expedition of 1907 to 1909.
"100 horsepower in a dinghy" in Shackleton's opinion.
The two men along with Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams set out on the 19th October 1908 to reach the South Pole.
By the 9th January 1909 they had discovered and named many new Antarctic landmarks.
They were only 97 miles from their goal, the furthest South any man had travelled up to that time.
But,they had few rations left and the enforced journey back was a virtual race against death.
If they had made that last few miles, Scott and Amundsen would be the minor pages in the History books.
And everyone would remember Shackleton, Wild, Marshall and Adams.
This probably greater feat of Antarctic exploration and endurance is now sadly forgotten.
Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams. Their food rations ran out when they were just 97 miles from being the first men to reach the South Pole.
Shackleton and Wild on the Left.
DOUGLAS MAWSON'S 'AURORA' EXPEDITION 1911-14.
When in 1911 Douglas Mawson, another Yorkshireman by birth, decided to explore the Antarctic region closest to his new home of Australia,
He also turned to Frank Wild's experience.
He called him "Antarctica's oldest resident" and having accompanied Shackleton's expedition himself had noted Frank's "high merits as an explorer and leader".
To find out as much as he could Mawson divided his expedition into separate groups and Wild was place in charge of six men.
From a base on floating ice at the western edge of the Shackleton Ice Shelf, an area that was to become known as the 'windiest place on earth', Wild and his team sledged in every direction mapping a region
he was to name 'Queen Mary Land'.
SHACKLETON'S 'ENDURANCE' 1914-16
THE IMPERIAL TRANS-ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION.
On his return to England, Wild was selected as Second in Command by Shackleton for the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition;
thus becoming a player in one of the greatest real-life adventure stories that has been the source of many books.
The 28 man team set out in August 1914, but never made it to Antarctica through the dense ice floes of the Weddell Sea.
By February 1915 the 'Endurance' was trapped and slowly being crushed.
When it became evident that the condition of the 'Endurance' was hopeless, we got on the upper deck everything that was essential to save.
We camped near the wreck and got everything out of her that was possible. Quantities of valuable stores were, however, in the compartment cover by several feet of ice and water.
Sir Ernest conceived the brilliant idea of cutting out a piece of the deck and as the cases floated up to the higher level they were secured or speared by means of an improvised harpoon and dragged to the
By this means we secured some hundred cases, on which we lived for 6 months, thus being able to save our sledging rations and also the boats, which we placed on sleds.
Without those I doubt if we should have pulled through.
When we saw the ship settling down, we set off on a march towards land.
We worked from 6 in the morning until 9 or 10 at night.
After some time we got amonst ice, through which it was impossible to travel and set up camp, where we remained for 4 months.
One time, Maj Orde-Lees, who was unarmed was chased by a sea-leopard over the floes. Eventually the creature, which was more than 12 feet long and weighed a ton, was shot by me from
There the usual food of seals and penguins had deserted them. They had nothing for the dogs and had no other recourse than to kill them - one of the most painful experiences they had.
Those that were fit for food were eaten.
When the ice broke up in April, they got their boats into the water, but for three days they were themselves without water, as a result of which their lips cracked and swelled and they were able to eat only
soft raw seal.
This increased their thirst to such an extent that 10 of the party became insane.
Efforts to drag the boats to open water failed and it was not until April 1916 that the ice broke up sufficiently to enable them to reach the barren rocks of Elephant Island, the first time for 497 days that
they had stood on land, by which time only 6 out of 28 were able for any work.
Elephant Island, continued Mr Wild, is about the most inhospitable place on the face of the earth, though we were pretty glad to reach it when we did, for many of the party were on the verge of
Without any means of communication, Shackleton decided to attempt the seemingly impossible 800 mile journey to S Georgia to seek rescue, with Worsley, the ship's Captain, to guide them.
Launching the James Caird lifeboat.
"ONE OF THE GREATEST BOAT JOURNEYS EVER ACCOMPLISHED."
The journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia was 800 miles in a 22.5 foot lifeboat through first ice and then the 'furious fifties', known for 60 foot waves and hurricane force winds.
The 'James Caird' lifeboat, named after a sponsor of the expedition, was strengthened in makeshift fashion by the ship's carpenter and set off with 5 men taking turns to man the helm, sails and
Depending on the navigation skills of Captain Worsley, who could make only infrequent sightings of the sun, the boat survived a series of dangers, including a near capsizing and reached the southern
coast of South Georgia 16 days later.
After great difficulty in beaching, Shackleton left two of the exhausted men under the upturned boat.
With Worsley and Crean and no map they made the first crossing of the mountains and glaciers of the South Georgia interior.
They travelled continuously for 36 hours.
In Worsley's words "a terrible trio of scarecrows, dark with exposure, wind, frostbite and accumulated blubber soot" finally reached Stromness, where help could be found.
A Norwegian whale catcher picked up the two men who had been left on the South coast and the 'James Caird' lifeboat, which is today on display at Dulwich College, London.
However, with the advent of the southern winter and adverse ice conditions it was more than 3 months before Shackleton was able to rescue the men left on Elephant Island.
SURVIVING ON ELEPHANT ISLAND.
22 men were left on the island with Frank Wild in charge.
It was Frank's brainwave to create a shelter by inverting the two remaining boats on rocks and filling in the gaps with whatever they could find.
For 138 days they lived thus on penguin meat and by the light of penguin blubber lamps.
Shackleton's epic voyage miraculously succeeded and the men could hardly believe it when, on the 30th August 1917 they saw a Chilean steamer, the "Yelcho", appear.
Everyone of the 28 men, who had set out survived, thanks to the heroic efforts of their two leaders.
25th August 1915.
UNAWARE OF FATHER'S DEATH.
Mr Benjamin Wild, has died at Wood Green in his 70th year.
He had 6 sons, of whom any father might well be proud. Three are in the Army, a fourth would have enlisted, but considered it his duty to stay with his father and the remaining two, one of whom is Mr Frank
Wild, the well known Antarctic explorer, are now with Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition.
These two will not be able to hear of their father's death until some time next year.
A NEWSPAPER REPORT OF THE TIME.
Punta Arenas, Chili, Saturday, 9th September 1916.
Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men are leaving here next week for "Buenos Ayres" en route for England.
The party will probably arrive in England at the end of October.
Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mr Frank Wild granted me an interview today and gave me the first full account of the rescue of the marooned men on Elephant Island and of their life there.
For the first three weeks several of the party suffered from frostbite and were ill from exposure.
One man lost half his foot through frost bite.
All, however, slowly recovered.
The ice-hole in which shelter was taken on landing soon became unbearable owing to snow.
Wild realising that existence would be impossible under the conditions which has set in, turned the two remaining small boats upside down, supported on rocks to form a roof and fixed spare canvas at the
sides to make walls.
Chronometer cases served for windows.
Upper bunks for half the party were provided by the thwarts, [crosswise struts in a boat to brace it], the remainder having to be content with beds made from pebbles collected from the beach.
For light they had nothing better than a blubber lamp, while the cooking stove was extemporised out of old oil tins.
They did not have their clothes off for 8 months, nor a wash all that time.
A typical day.
When dawn broke at eight o'clock, the cook set to work to prepare breakfast, a task that, with the primitive cooking arrangements at his disposal, was a long one, and it was not until ten that the meal was
It consisted generally merely of penguin fried in blubber with a drink of water.
Breakfast over, snow drifts were cleared and penguins caught ashore.
Whenever the sea was free from ice, a man was detailed as a lookout, for no one doubted that the party would be rescued in time.
One cheerful optimist, indeed, rolled up his bed every morning with expectation of the rescue ship with Sir Ernest Shackleton arriving at any moment.
The morning's duties having been carried out, at one o'clock lunch - biscuits with raw blubber was served.
The afternoon was occupied by regulated exercise over a track of 100 yards in length.
At five, when darkness fell, all were ready for dinner, the menu consisting of penguin breast with a sustaining hot drink made from one bovril ration.
A Substitute for Tobacco.
Lacking tobacco, the men smoked grass taken from the padding of their boots, while pipes were carved from birds bones and wood.
At 5.30 all turned in. The members of the party took it in turns to read aloud from the only surviving books of the little library
which had been rescued from the Endurance - the Bible, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Browning, Carlyle's "French Revolution" and
Bacon's Essays being read in turn.
On Saturday the evening was marked by a concert, the feature of which was the banjo playing by Hussey.
This was the only musical instrument the marooned men possessed.
Sir Ernest took it off the Endurance just before she was abandoned as a mental tonic.
The King's birthday was celebrated with as much eclat as possible, the Union Jack which His Majesty presented to Sir Ernest Shackleton to carry on the expedition being hoisted and the Royal health being
loyally drunk in hot sledging ration.
On one occasion, there was an unexpected bill of fare. Some undigested fish were found in the stomach of a seal and were greatly enjoyed.
This was the only fish that was obtained, for it was impossible to put out any lines.
At the beginning of August they secured a welcome change of diet. The ice began to melt and the rocks were exposed. Limpets were gathered in large numbers and a great deal of
seaweed was available and made a very valuable vegetable.
The health of the party during their prolonged stay on the island was maintained as far as possible by constant watchfulness on the part of the two surgeons - Dr Macklin and Dr McIlroy, in consultation
with Mr Wild.
Owing to these precautions no trace of scurvy appeared.
Slight sickness, due to the foul water from the penguin summer rockery, was cured by the judicious use of the scanty farinaceous stores, which still remained during the latter part of the stay.
Blizzards were of frequent occurrence during the Winter and sometimes the party had to keep cover for days together in crowded and most uncomfortable conditions.
Hope of eventual rescue was never abandoned and good spirits were a great factor in maintaining health.
On August the 3rd, Wild told me, most of the party were just sitting down to a seaweed and limpet lunch when there were shouts from Hurley and Marston, who were outside the hut that a ship was in sight.
All hands rushed out and through the lifting fog amongst the great grounded bergs they saw a little vessel.
She was apparently steaming past the camp and Wild started making smoke signals to attract her attention.
Within five minutes the suspense was over and the Yelcho was seen swinging round directly for the spot where the party were clustered.
A boat was dropped and rowed rapidly towards the shore.
Three ringing cheers greeted its approach and as soon as Sir Ernest, who was in the boat, was within hailing distance a chorus of "All well!" reached his ears and must have gladdened his heart.
Mr Wild described the rescue:-
We were just assembling to lunch, to the call of 'Lunch-O' and I was serving out the soup, which was particualarly good that day, consisting of boiled seal's backbone, limpets and seaweed, when there
was another hail from Marston of 'Ship-O'.
Some of the men thought it was 'Lunch-O' over again, but when there was another yell from Marston, lunch had no further attraction.
The ship was about a mile and a half away and steaming past us.
A smoke signal was the agreed sign from the shore.
Catching up somebody's coat that was lying about, I struck a pick into a tin of kerosene kept for the purpose, poured it over the coat and set it alight.
It flared instead of smoking, but that did not matter, for the Chief had slready recognised the spot where he had left us and the Yelko was turning in.
Nobody could have picked it out, for there were 8 feet of snow before the hut, though we had shifted 30 tons of the stuff that morning and any sign of life would have been invisible from the sea.
A pretty heavy swell was running, but we did not waste much time in getting aboard and in less than an hour we were steaming North.
At the time we were rescued we had only a day's penguin meat supply in hand and were down to our last Bovril ration.
"When was the War over?" was the first question which Wild and his comrades put to their rescuers.
They had heard nothing of the outside World since October 1914, when the Endurance left Buenos Ayres.
They were shocked to hear that the War had hardly started.
Frank Wild's Own Description of Conditions on Elephant Island.
"On April 25th, the day after the departure of the boat, the island was beset by dense pack-ice.
The party was confined to a narrow spit of land 250 yards long and 40 yards wide, surrounded by inaccessible cliffs and ice-laden seas.
We were forced to abandon our ice-hole, which was made untenable by the snow. We made a dwelling of our boats supported by rocks and set up as far as practicable
from the sea.
The weather continued appalling. It was difficult to work and the vitality of the whole party was lowered to exposure.
Blackboro, Hudson, Greenstreet and Rickinson became ill and several others were frostbitten.
In May a heavy blizzard swept much valuable gear into the sea and we were in grave anxiety owing to the danger of being swept away by the heavy seas raised by the blizzard, which was blowing at the
velocity of 70 miles an hour.
Fortunately, owing to the low temperature, an ice pool formed on the seashore and this protection was the means of saving us from total destruction.
On several occasions the adjacent glacier "calved", throwing up heavy waves and on one occasion blocks of ice were hurled to within 15 feet of our dwelling.
Economising Food Supply.
Observing how the island was beset, I realised the difficulty our leader must experience in effecting our early relief and, as a measure of precaution, I drastically economised our food.
I allowed only one hot meal daily until we had strengthened our reserve of blubber.
Our valuable stock of Bovril rations was used for two meals weekly, thus supplying a vital change in our diet and life was well maintained.
We were kept in anxiety as to our meat supply, which was constantly depleted. It was periodically replenished by small penguins, but the seals were unable to land owing to the ice pool.
From June onward the weather was better as regards wind, but we were under a constant pall of fog and snow.
In the middle of the Winter Blackboro's toes had to be amputated.
Whenever the sea opened, our hopes of relief were renewed. The three previous attempts at relief had synchronised with the times when the island was beset with ice.
At the beginning of August we were able to collect seaweed and limpets, which formed a valuable change in our diet, but the deep water, heavy seas and ice prevented us from fishing.
On August 28th the gale drove the pack from the island and on the 30th through the lifting fog we caught sight of the Yelcho steering through a mass of stranded bergs.
An hour later we were homeward bound."
They reached London on the 8th November 1916.
The men who had been out of touch since 1914.
Frank Wild was given a position in the Royal Navy and made trips to Spitzbergen and Russia.
15th February 1917.
PRESENTED TO THE KING.
Mr Frank Wild, of Antarctic fame, who was last week presented to His Majesty at Buckingham Palace, was in his youth assistant teached for a time at the Boys' Council School at Woburn, during
the master-ship of the late Mr E Smith.
Those of his friends, who knew him will be gratified on his being recognised by the King in appreciation of his splendid skill and self-denial in the terrible ordeal from which he has emerged so
1918 FRANK'S BROTHER, HARRY ERNEST, DIED THE FIRST WORLD WAR.
Harry had also joined the Navy at the age of 15. He joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition [Ross Sea Party], 1914 to 1917 under Shackleton as a general assistant..
On his return to the Navy he joined the Minesweeper HMS Biarritz at Malta. In February he contracted typhoid and died on the 10 March 1918.
30th May 1919.
AN ARCTIC COALFIELD EXPLORER.
No wonder the Germans had marked down Spitzbergen as part of the spoils of victory.
Ther is obviously a great future for the only 'No Man's Land' in the world.
In 1607 Henry Hudson, the famous explorer, at that time in the employ of the Muscovy Company, raised the English flag in 1614.
Spitzbergen was formally annexed to the British Empire as 'King James, His New Land' and for a while a flourishing whaling industry existed there.
This, however, died out, the islands became deserted and the British claim to sovereignty was half-forgotten.
A new British Industrial Colony was founded last summer to develop this new Arctic coalfield.
The founders of the new colony were led by Mr F W Salisbury-Jones, the leader of the expedition and Captain Frank Wild, the Antarctic explorer.
LECTURES IN THE UK.
Frank gave talks about his experiences and local newspaper reports reveal more details:-
Mr Wild mentioned that Shackleton commenced preparing his expedition about the middle of 1913.
Two ships were equipped and a party of 50 men was chosen from more then 3,000 volunteers.
Among these were 19 girls, 'but he was afraid they were simply pulling their leg' [laughter].
Just when they were ready to sail the war clouds over-shadowed Europe.
Shackleton offered his ships, stores and service to the Admiralty, but Mr Churchill told him to proceed with his expedition.
AFRICAN TOBACCO VENTURE AND CALL TO SHACKLETON'S 'QUEST' 1921-22.
20th May 1920.
Frand Wild went to S Africa and cleared areas of virgin land to try tobacco farming, without any great success.
Captain Frank Wild, the Antarctic explorer, left London yesterday for Central Africa, where he intends to grow tobacco for the English market.
There was a gathering of Polar explorers to see him off at Euston.
When the train steamed out there were hearty handshakes and Sir Ernest Shackleton led the gallant party in cries of "Hoo! Hoo!", the cry they have often shouted across the ice-bound wastes.
Captain Wild was accompanied by Dr McIlroy.
"There is plenty of native labour on the spot", said Wild, "and as the estate is very extensive, we expect to make a fortune."
When Shackleton called for him once more to join yet another Antarctic venture in the "Quest", Wild was back in his element.
Sadly, Shackleton died of a heart attack during this expedition. Wild took over command and left Antarctica for the last time.
Frank Wild married Mrs Granville Altman, whom he had rescued from Russia, after her former husband, a Borneo tea planter had been killed in the War.
A SAD END.
He returned to S Africa, where he tried his hand at cotton farming and then a scheme to lay rail track.
He did not find the same success as he had as an explorer.
Financial problems saw the failure of his business ventures and his marriage to Mrs Altman ended in divorce in 1928.
24th July 1929.
LEAVING HIS JOB AS A BARMAN.
"Commander Frank Wild, the British Antarctic explorer, who is at present a barman in an outlying village of Zululand, has decided to leave his position.
He went to Northern Zululand in 1922 and in 4 years lost his capital in cotton farming.
He is at present earning £4 a month at an hotel at the village of Goller, the most northerly point of the Zululand Railway.
16th December 1930.
"Johannesburg. The engagement is announced between Commander Frank Wild, the famous Antarctic explorer and Miss Beatrice Rowbotham of Port Elizabeth."
He re-married, but his career went further downhill.
He ended up bar-tending, drinking too much and lecturing on his Antarctic exploits to pay the bills.
16th May 1939.
A PENSION TOO LATE.
"Mr Frank Wild, the Antarctic explorer, has been granted a civil pension of £170 for his services in the sphere of Polar exploration.
19th August 1939.
DEATH IN KLERKSDORP, S AFRICA.
Frank died on this day of pneumonia.
He was awarded the CBE, the Geographical Society's Livingstone Gold Medal for the most outstanding feat of exploration South of the Equator and the Polar Medal with 4 clasps, an
achievement no other man could match.
Cape Wild on Elephant Island is named after him, as is Mount Wild and Point Wild in other parts of the Antarctic, although most map readers probably think "wild" refers to the climate.
[When one considers the often insubstantial characters, the pansy entertainers, corrupt politicians and businessmen etc who are awarded knighthoods today, it is a tragedy that Frank's heroic life was not
more worthily honoured by his once great nation.
Or maybe it is good yardstick, by which to explain its modern day downfall in patriotic and moral values.]
27th November 2011.
BURIAL OF FRANK WILD'S ASHES ON SOUTH GEORGIA.
It is said that Frank Wild's dying wish was to be buried alongside his "boss", Sir Ernest Shackleton.
It was intended to transport his ashes after the cremation in Johannesburg to the South Atlantic island of South Georgia, where Shackleton had died of a heart attack in 1922.
The outbreak of the Second World War caused the idea to be abandoned.
In January 2011 Wild's remains were traced to a vault in Braamfontein Cemetery, Johannesburg by the writer Angie Butler, who was researching her book "The Quest for Frank Wild".
On the 27th November 2011 descendants of both Wild and Shackleton gathered for a service in the small wooden whalers' Church at Gritviken, S Georgia, prior to burying Frank's ashes on the right side of
A gravestone in rough hewn granite is inscribed:- "Shackleton's right-hand man."