Heroic Scottish Explorer Died In Poverty Due To Shackleton

Roundup: Talking About History

The family of Henry "Chippy" McNish, a Glasgow-born shipwright who made possible the epic open-boat voyage of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, wants a posthumous award of the Polar Medal.

McNish -- who later settled in New Zealand -- helped save the lives of the expedition's 28 men, but Shackleton branded him a troublemaker and refused to recommend him for a Polar Medal, an accolade given to most members of the failed 1914-16 Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition. Andrew Leachman, of the Antarctic Society of New Zealand, told London's Sunday Times newspaper: "The expedition is viewed as one of the greatest epics of survival. Shackleton even conceded they would not have lived but for McNish.

"By withholding the Polar Medal, Shackleton achieved the final shaming of McNish and displayed a vindictiveness that fell below his own mercurial standards of loyalty."

McNish died in New Zealand and was buried in a pauper's grave in Wellington. The plot at Karori cemetery remained unmarked till the Antarctic Society erected a headstone in 1959 -- spelling his name "McNeish". In 2004 the society spruced up the grave and raised $6000 for a statue of McNish's cat Mrs Chippy to go on it.

Shackleton ordered Mrs Chippy shot when the expedition had to abandon its ship, the Endurance, in pack ice.

Shortly before his death in 1930, McNish was visited in a Wellington old people's home by an Antarctic historian who later said: "He lay there repeating over and over again: `Shackleton killed my cat'."

Now the forgotten Scot of the Antarctic is the subject of a campaign by his Clydeside family to have the Polar Medal awarded.

* The petition website is http://www.petitiononline.com/Chippy14/petition.html .

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