Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Henry McNish

Henry McNish was the carpenter on Shackleton’s Endurance voyage of 1914-16. While on the outward journey to Antarctica he built a pram dinghy amongst other things. But he was a difficult character. The only man that Shackleton felt he didn’t have the measure of, McNish at one point, after the Endurance had been crushed in the pack ice and the crew were adrift on floes, disobeyed orders. Apparently he never forgave Shackleton for the slaughter of the cats for food. Shackleton chose McNish as a crew member on the journey to South Georgia, reasoning that if left behind with the main body of men he would prove troublesome and affect morale.

But it was on Elephant Island before that historic journey to South Georgia that McNish’s talents as a carpenter came into their own. Of their three boats Shackleton decided to prepare the James Caird for the 800 mile journey across the Southern ocean. McNish was responsible for making the boat seaworthy. With packing crates as material he built up the freeboard, added decking and transformed a mast, from one of the other boats, into a keel. Although most of the tools had been lost on the journey across the ice McNish still managed to cut and fit new planks to the boat measuring entirely by eye. And though the end result reminded the crew of theatrical scenery the quality of McNish’s work had a bearing on the ultimate success of that journey.

Today I wished I had a pipkin of that kind of talent with wood, even using a set square it was impossible to make square cuts. I checked the set square with a protractor and found it square. So what’s going on? Are my saws all bent or is it my arm? Maybe I should take the whole lot round to Mr Mushroom the carpenter, get him to sort it out on his flash machines.

Is it square?

Henry McNish: not a very nice bloke but one hell of a carpenter.

2 comments:

Gav said...

Mark-up carefully all round, take your time, stop frequently to make sure your saw is properly perpendicular to the work and that you're following the lines on top and below.

It's easy to say and harder to do!

Given that the technology of the boat was wooden, I'd rather have my carpenter on board on that voyage, as Shackleton did. But I do wonder... For people with personalities like McNish's just how difficult must life be?

When you meet a real tortured pain in the arse, I sometimes think the only consolation is to reflect on just how much worse it must be for them.

Thanks for another good post and I'm sorry you didn't make better progress yesterday.

Gav

Ben Crawshaw said...

You're right there Gav, it really is just a question of taking plenty of time over the details.