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McCarthy, Timothy F.

McCarthy, Timothy F.

Alias: Tim

Title: Mr

Rank: Leading Seaman (Royal Naval Reserve)

Dates: 1888-1917

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (bronze)

Tim McCarthy was born in Lower Cove, Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, into a family of seafarers and navigators. His older brother Mortimer served as an able seaman on Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova). McCarthy had served with the Royal Naval Reserve before joining Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Ever a pleasure to be around, McCarthy was later described by Frank Worsley as: 'The most irrepressible optimist I've ever met. [Once when] I relieved him at the helm, seas pouring down our necks, one came right over us & I felt like swearing but just kept it back & he informed me with a cheerful grin "It's a foine day, sorr". As a rule when a sea wets a sailor through he swears at it comprehensively, and impartially curses everything in sight beginning with the ship & "the old man" – if he’s not within hearing, but on this trip we said nothing when a sea hit us in the face. It was grin & bear it, for it was Sir Ernest's theory that by keeping our tempers … we each helped to keep one another up. We all lived up to this to the best of our ability, but McCarthy was a marvel’ (Worsley, 'Shackleton's Boat Journey', 1933: 18).

McCarthy is best remembered for assisting the work on making James Caird more seaworthy before the voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Together with Alf Cheetham, he constructed a thin deck over the boat by using the sledge runners and a bolt of canvas that had been brought along from Endurance. McCarthy then joined Shackleton on the epic journey to King Haakon Bay, South Georgia. At Peggotty Camp, he was left in charge of John Vincent and Harry McNish, while Shackleton, Worsley, and Tom Crean set out to cross South Georgia. McCarthy and the other two men were picked up on 21 May 1916 by the Norwegian sealer Samson. They arrived at Stromness the following day, after which their achievements were honoured by the local whalers.

Shackleton quickly sent McCarthy, McNish, and Vincent home to Britain on the Norwegian steamer Orwell. The three arrived back in England on 3 August 1916, and McCarthy wasted no time in re-enlisting in the Royal Naval Reserve. He was appointed a leading seaman on the tanker SS Narragansett. Three weeks after his return from South Georgia, he was killed when the ship was hit by an enemy torpedo in the English Channel; he was only 29 years old. McCarthy was posthumously awarded the Polar Medal in bronze.

Today McCarthy is honoured at the Plymouth Naval Memorial and, along with his brother Mortimer, in a memorial in Kinsale. He is also commemorated by McCarthy Island (54°10'S, 37°26'W), a mile-long island lying in the entrance to King Haakon Bay on the southern side of South Georgia.


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