Perce Blackborow

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With cat, Mrs Chippy

Perce Blackborow (1896 in Newport, Monmouthshire – 1949) was a Welsh sailor, a stowaway on Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition.


Blackborow was born in 1896 in Newport, Monmouthshire.

Stowaway on Endurance[edit]

Blackborow and his friend, William Lincoln Bakewell travelled to Buenos Aires looking for new employment. Bakewell was taken on as an able seaman by Endurance, but Blackborow was not hired; at 18, his youth and inexperience counted against him. Fearing that Endurance was shorthanded, Bakewell and Walter How helped Blackborow sneak aboard, and hid him in a locker amongst piles of clothing.[1] On the third day at sea he was discovered.

Unable to stand, he had to remain seated in a chair when he met Ernest Shackleton for the first time. Apparently in a fit of genuine rage, Shackleton subjected the stowaway to a most severe and terrifying tirade in front of the entire crew. This had the desired effect and the reactions of the two accomplices were enough to unmask them. Shackleton finished his performance by saying to Blackborow, "Do you know that on these expeditions we often get very hungry, and if there is a stowaway available he is the first to be eaten?" To which Blackborow replied, "They’d get a lot more meat off you, sir." Shackleton hid a grin and after chatting with one of the crew members said "Introduce him to the cook first." [2]

Blackborow proved an asset to the ship as a steward and was eventually signed on, though under the promise that he would be the first eaten should they run out of food or should the men starve.

Following Endurance's entrapment and crushing, the crew relocated to Elephant Island. On arrival, Shackleton thought to give Blackborow, the youngest of the crew, the honor of being the first to step on the island, forgetting that his feet had been frostbitten. Helped over the gunwale, he fell in the shallows, proclaiming that he was the first man to sit on Elephant Island, and was quickly carried ashore.


After the Endurance had sunk, the crew salvaged what they could, but most of their clothing they had collected already. Blackborow, however, took the wrong sort of boots, and, on the crew's journey to Elephant Island via lifeboat, he developed frostbite on his feet.

On 24 April the rescue party set sail in the James Caird for South Georgia, hoping to return in weeks. The rest of the crew resigned themselves to waiting. Almost to a man they were in poor health and spirits. Blackborow had contracted gangrene due to his frostbite, and was surgeon Alexander Macklin's greatest medical concern.

On 15 June, with Shackleton and the James Caird crew now away for a month, Macklin, assisted by James McIlroy, carried out the necessary amputations. He was put under chloroform as an anesthesia. Greenstreet described the operation. "Blackborow had … all the toes of his left foot taken off ¼ inch stumps being left … The poor beggar behaved splendidly and it went without a hitch … Time from start to finish 55 minutes. When Blackborow came to he was cheerful as anything and started joking directly."[3]

After the rescue crew returned, Macklin carried Blackborow outside to see the approaching ship.

Blackborow returned to live in Newport, South Wales, and received the Bronze Polar Medal for his service in the trip. He died in 1949, of chronic bronchitis and a heart problem at age 53.


Blackborow's Antarctic adventures are the subject of two fictionalized accounts, Shackleton's Stowaway by Victoria McKernan (ISBN 0-440-41984-0) and Ice-Cold Heaven by Mirko Bonne (ISBN 978-1-59020-140-4).


  1. ^ NOVA Online | Shackleton's Antarctic Odyssey | Perce Blackborow, Steward
  2. ^ Huntford, R. "Shackleton", p. 384. Carroll & Graf, 1998.
  3. ^ Huntford, R. "Shackleton", p. 533. Carroll & Graf, 1998.