Kinsale man’s medal for epic Antarctic journey set to make €24k at auction

The James Caird being launched from the shore of Elephant Island in April 1916.

The polar medal awarded to Kinsale man Timothy McCarthy who sailed to South Georgia in the Antarctic with Shackleton comes up at auction in London on July 22.

The unique bronze medal awarded to the Royal Naval Reserve able seaman for the epic 1,290km journey across the sub-Antarctic Ocean is expected to make between €18,000 and €24,000 at Dix Noonan Webb, the international coin, medal and jewellery specialists.

McCarthy sailed with Ernest Shackleton in the 6m-long boat James Caird from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1916. The 16-day journey to get help for their shipmates from the Polar exploration ship Endurance became one of the greatest maritime stories in history.

Shackleton and the crew of five put their own lives in danger to save their comrades. Shackleton paid tribute to his shipmate: “McCarthy, the best and most efficient of sailors, always cheerful under the most trying circumstances and who for these reasons I choose to accompany me on the boat journey to South Georgia.”

The Kinsale man was one of just 26 selected to crew Endurance, whose aim was to cross the Antarctic, a journey of 2,900km.

They set sail in August 1914. The following January, Endurance was held up by pack ice in the Weddell Sea and later that year, damaged by the pressure of ice, was abandoned and it later sank.

The crew established base camp on an iceflow but as supplies dwindled it was clear that help would have to be sought. Six men set out on the James Caird for South Georgia, where there were whaling stations.

After their rescue McCarthy was sent back to Britain with Shackleton’s warm gratitude. He was almost immediately thrust into service aboard the armed oil tanker SS Narrangansett.

This ship was torpedoed and sunk off the south west coast of Ireland on March 16, 1917, and McCarthy was one of 46 sailors who died. McCarthy never lived to see his polar medal and his First World War medals were never claimed or issued.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

A joint bust of McCarthy and his brother Morty, also an Antarctic explorer, was unveiled in Kinsale in September 2000. The polar medal was in the possession of a now deceased Irish collector and has never been on the open market before.


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