Perce Blackborow

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


He was born in 1896 in Newport, Monmouthshire. Blackborow and William Lincoln Bakewell sailed aboard the Golden Gate, which was wrecked on the shore of Montevideo.

Stowaway on Endurance[edit]

The friends traveled to Buenos Aires looking for new employment. William Lincoln Bakewell was taken on as an Able Seaman by Endurance. Blackborow however was not hired, his youth (he was 18) and inexperience counting against him. Fearing that Endurance was shorthanded, Bakewell and Walter How helped Blackborow sneak aboard and hid him in a locker. [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 and was quickly carried ashore.


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 and was Macklin’s greatest medical concern.

On 15 June, with Shackleton and the James Caird crew now away for a month, Macklin, assisted by McIlroy, carried out the necessary amputations. 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]

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.