John Vincent (sailor)

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This article is about the sailor. For other uses of the name, see John Vincent (disambiguation).
John Vincent
Born 1879
Birmingham, England
Died 19 January 1941(1941-01-19)
Grimsby, England
Occupation Seaman, explorer

John William Vincent (1879 – 19 January 1941) was an English seaman and member of Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. He was one of the five men who accompanied Shackleton on his epic crossing from Elephant Island to South Georgia and was one of only four of the crew of Endurance not to receive the Polar Medal.

Early life[edit]

Vincent was born in Birmingham sometime during 1879. Little is known of his early life, but at 14 he ran away to sea, and by the time he was 22 he was serving in the Royal Marines on board HMS Cambridge. He later became a trawlerman working on the North Sea fleet out of Hull. He was a keen amateur boxer and wrestler.

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition[edit]

The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was organised by Ernest Shackleton as an attempt to be the first expedition to cross the Antarctic continent. Vincent was originally taken on as the bosun, but after a row with Thomas Orde-Lees and complaints of bullying from members of the fo'c'sle crew, he was called to Shackleton's cabin and demoted to Able Seaman. He did not cause any further trouble, but was never popular with the rest of the crew, and Shackleton kept a watchful eye on him: after the Endurance was crushed by the ice and the men were forced to use the three small lifeboats to reach Elephant Island, Shackleton made sure that Vincent was among the men in his boat. He also chose him as part of the six-man crew of the James Caird who were to sail to South Georgia to fetch help, preferring to have him in the boat rather than leaving him on the island where he could spread dissent. Vincent and Harry McNish were pitched into the water as the boat was launched, and Vincent's refusal to exchange his jersey led to comments amongst the beach party that he had some of their possessions concealed about his person. Although Vincent was the strongest man in the crew, he fared badly during the voyage to South Georgia: he was almost washed overboard, and lost part of his upper lip after it froze to a metal cup. Shackleton recorded that two of the crew, Vincent and McNish, were very close to death, and although McNish showed "grit and spirit", Vincent ceased to be an active member of the crew.

When the crew of the James Caird arrived at South Georgia, they landed on the wrong side of the island. While the rest of the crew busied themselves with preparations for the trip over the mountains which they had to make to reach the whaling station at Husvik, Vincent showed no signs of improvement. McNish recorded in his diary:

While the skipper does the Nimrod & bring home the food Vincent lays down by the fire & smokes some times coming out for more wood while the Boss & Crean looks after the cooking & McCarthy is my assistant.

It was clear that neither McNish nor Vincent could continue, so Shackleton left them in the care of Timothy McCarthy and set out on the trip over the mountains with Frank Worsley and Tom Crean. After the three men arrived at the whaling station, Shackleton sent Worsley back on board one of the whaling ships to pick up Vincent, McNish and McCarthy and then arranged passage back to England for them while he, Worsley, and Crean set about organising a rescue of the men on Elephant Island.

Shackleton was later to deny Vincent the Polar Medal, awarded to everybody in the crew except McNish, who had rebelled on the ice, and the three trawlermen: William Stephenson, Ernest Holness and Vincent. Alexander Macklin, one of the ship's surgeons, thought the withholding of the medal a bit hard: "They were perhaps not very endearing characters but they never let the expedition down".

After the expedition[edit]

In 1918 Vincent joined the crew of a vessel chartered by the Foreign Office which was torpedoed while on service in the Mediterranean. He survived, and after World War I again took up work as a trawlerman. He worked for a time in Finland, but although he was offered a permanent position as a fishing instructor with the Finnish government, his wife did not wish to move. Instead he settled in Grimsby where he and his wife raised a family of five sons and four daughters.

During World War II he served in the Royal Naval Reserve and was given command of the armed trawler HM Trawler Alfredian which worked off the North and East coasts. While on board the Alfredian he developed pneumonia and was transferred to the Naval Hospital in Grimsby. He died on 19 January 1941 and was buried in Grimsby's Scartho Road Cemetery.