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Stephenson, William H.

Stephenson, William H.

Alias: Bill

Title: Mr

Dates: 1877-1927

Nationality: British

Awards: None

William ‘Bill’ Stephenson remains perhaps one of the least known figure from the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Born in York, he married Edith A Binks from Hull and the couple settled in the city.
He joined Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition as first fireman, responsible for the physically demanding task of feeding coal to the engines and overseeing the boiler.

When Endurance was abandoned, Stephenson and Charles Green were pumping out water. Green described the dramatic events: 'That afternoon, it was my turn to do the pumping. I was pumping with Bill Stevenson amidships and we looked up and there was a string of flags flying. I said, "Whose birthday is it?" We thought we were celebrating some Royalty's birthday or something like that – but we had no idea whose birthday it was. But we soon found out – because a big chunk of ice, like a torpedo, went right through the side of the ship. Big it was – went straight through! Well, Bill and I jumped up on to the boat deck and there was the "Boss" and the rest of the crew. "Abandon Ship" was shouted – and that's what all the flags were for! We were the last two men to leave the ship – it was that sudden. We had hardly got any clothes on! You only wanted thin stuff when you were pumping like that. We lost most of our gear.'

After the expedition, Stephenson was among the large party that sailed home from South America on board Highland Laddie. He was one of four men Shackleton did not put forward for the Polar Medal. Although their actions aboard explain why Shackleton might not have recommended Harry McNish and John Vincent, there is no explanation why Stephenson and the other fireman, Ernie Holness, did not receive medals.

He joined the Royal Naval Reserves in 1917, and served two years. Stephenson contained to work on trawlers out of Hull for several years. In 1927, Stephenson was admitted to Hull infirmary for an operation for gallstones. Sadly, the operation was unsuccessful, and following complications, Stephenson died on the 20th April 1927. He was 50. Stephenson is buried in Western Cemetery, Hull.


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