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McLeod, Thomas Frank

McLeod, Thomas Frank

Alias: Old Mac

Title: Mr

Dates: 1873-1960

Nationality: British

Awards: Polar Medal (silver); Polar Medal (bronze)

Thomas Frank McLeod was born in Glasgow to an unwed domestic servant on 3 April 1873, Shortly thereafter, he was taken to his mother's home in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, where he was raised by his widowed grandmother. He went to see at the age of 13 joining the merchant navy, celebrating his 14th birthday in Australia. He also served in the Boer War, during which he sustained a hand injury that continued to bother him for many years. At a point unknown during this part of his career, he assumed the middle name Frank, which had not been on his birth certificate.

In 1910 McLeod was without work in Lyttelton, New Zealand, so he applied to join Robert Falcon Scott's British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova), which had arrived in port on the way south. McLeod was accepted as an able seaman and spent the duration of the expedition aboard ship. He was later awarded the Polar Medal in silver.

After the homecoming of Terra Nova, McLeod worked temporarily at the British Museum (Natural History) in London, before he applied to join the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (ITAE). Quickly accepted, he joined Endurance as one of the oldest members, at 47 years of age. He was soon given the nickname of 'Old Mac.'

At the beginning of the expedition, McLeod refused to eat penguin because he believed that the souls of dead fishermen lived in the penguins (Huntford, 'Shackleton', 1985: 417). When the expedition moved away from Endurance after she had sunk, Shackleton ordered every man to discard all but two pounds of personal gear. Shackleton himself left behind the Bible he had been given by the Queen, removing only the fly leaf with the Queen's signature, two pages from the book of Job with verses particularly appropriate to men alone and ice-bound, and a page containing the 23rd Psalm, his favourite. Believing that it was bad luck to throw away a Bible, McLeod picked up the Bible and kept it for the rest of the expedition. He later gave it to a family named MacLean, with whom he stayed in South America after the rescue from Elephant Island. The Bible is now held at the Royal Geographical Society. For his participation in the ITAE, McLeod was awarded the Polar Medal in bronze.

Following his return to Britain, McLeod served on minesweepers during the First World War. He later joined the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition 1921-22 (Quest), and it was his suggestion to build the memorial cairn to Shackleton at Hope Point on South Georgia.

In 1923 McLeod moved to Canada, where for the first two years he was a fisherman off Bell Island, Newfoundland. He then settled in Kingston, Ontario, where he worked as a school caretaker at Sunny Plains School and as a watchman at a disused silica mine. In 1928 he applied to join Admiral Richard Byrd's American expedition to Antarctica, but his application was received too late.

In 1947 McLeod moved to the Rideaucrest retirement home in Kingston, where he remained until his death at the age of 87.

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