JOHN ROBERT FRANCIS "FRANK" WILD CBE.
Frank Wild. 1873 - 1939
|Frank Wild was born on the 10th of April 1873 in Skelton.
The 1871 census gives the family's address as "The Green". Both his
father, Benjamin, born Newcastle, and his mother, Mary gave their occupations as "Wesleyan School Teachers".
Thanks to the detective work of Owen Rooks, who has contributed much to this website, "The Green" has been shown to be almost certainly Skelton Green, rather than Cross Green.
By the time of the 1881 Census the Wild family had moved out of the Skelton area, but three families who were living close to them in 1871 appear on the 1881 census at 14, 16 and 19 Boosbeck Road, Skelton Green.
Tom Curnow in his book "Skelton and Its History" mentions that 20 Boosbeck Road had been used as a school with one room containing 4 desks and the wall used as a blackboard.
The location of the Wesleyan School in Skelton has never been found and the above facts seem to indicate that 20 Boosbeck Road was where the Wild family lived and taught and where Frank was born.
However, in 1875 an issue of the "Northern Echo" carried the following advertisement, showing a B Wild, Stationer at 129 High Street, Skelton:-
It would seem a great co-incidence if there were two B Wilds living in a comparatively small village at the same time.
Did Frank's father had a short-lived venture into the world of shop-keeping, or is this B Wild a different person ?
The 1861 census records Frank' father as a "Potter" and those after 1871 as a "Certificated Teacher".
Maybe he continued with his teaching role in Skelton and employed someone else to run the shop, as the occupant in the 1881 census is a George Todd, "Engine Fitter", but Elizabeth Todd, a daughter is listed as
Frank's brother Charles was born in Skelton in the September quarter of 1874 and the next child Mary Elizabeth was not born until the June quarter of 1876 in Lincolnshire.
So it is possible that in 1875 the family could have moved from the 1871 address on the "Green" to 129 High Street.
So Skelton can claim the place of birth of Frank, but he had moved on before he was ever personally aware of it.
In 1890 a Trade Directory shows the address still as a Stationers and by the 1901 census it was "uninhabited".
[In the year 2014, 129 High St is the Chemists and Post Office on the end of the terrace opposite the Wharton Arms.
When I was a young lad in Skelton during the Second World War, and for some years after, it was the "Food Office", where the populace went to collect their Ration Books, dried milk, orange juice and cod liver oil.]
Frank Wild's mother, Mary, was a seamstresss and taught "Sowing" according to the 1881 census.
It is said that she claimed descent from the family of North Yorkshire's most famous son, Captain James Cook RN.
This is perhaps unlikely and was only in the imagination of Mrs Wild, who had been born with the surname Cook.
Neither Captain Cook nor his brother had any direct descendents.
Nevertheless, as the obituary on Frank at the bottom of this page shows, the connection with Captain Cook was widely accepted as being true.
The Wild family, which grew to 12 children, moved via Stickford, Lincs to Wheldrake, near York.
During his childhood Frank must have heard and been inspired by many stories of Captain Cook's great feats of exploration.
At the age of 16, Frank emulated Cook by joining the Merchant Navy. His first vessel was the "Sobraon", at that time the largest fully rigged composite ship.
He eventually rose to Second Officer. After 11 years travelling the globe, again like Cook, he transferred to the Royal Navy as a rating.
The 1901 census shows him as an Able Seaman, aged 27, on H.M.S Edinburgh.
Capt Scott's "Discovery", 1901-4.
In 1901 Able Seaman Wild volunteered to join Capt Scott's expedition to the Antarctic on the "Discovery". Much new territory was explored for
the first time and Frank took part in at least one of these forays into the unknown, the first sledging party into the mountains, reaching a
height of 8900 feet. It was 1904 before the party returned home, with the men living all this time in a hut and on board the ice-bound ship,
which finally escaped its prison with the aid of two relief ships and blasting the ice with explosives.
Ernest Shackleton's "Nimrod", 1907-1909.
Ernest Shackleton had been an Officer on the "Discovery" and recognised Frank Wild's capabilities for he chose him as part of his team on his
own "Nimrod" expedition of 1907 to 1909.
The two men along with Eric Marshall and Jameson Adams set out on the 19th October 1908 to reach the South Pole.
By the 9th January 1909 they had discovered and named many new Antarctic landmarks. They were only 97 miles from their goal, the furthest
South any man had travelled up to that time.
On The Quest 1921.
they had few rations left and the enforced journey back was a virtual
race against death.
If they had made that last few miles Scott and Amundsen would be the minor pages in the History books.
And everyone would remember Shackleton, Wilde, Marshall and Adams.
This probably greater feat of Antarctic exploration and endurance is now sadly forgotten.
They did it on their own frozen feet.
Amundsen used dogs which was a bit of a cheat and a bit like catching a bus to win the Marathon.
Douglas Mawson's "Aurora" 1911-14.
When in 1911 Douglas Mawson, another Yorkshireman by birth, decided to
explore the Antarctic region closest to his new home of Australia,
Shackleton and Wild on the Left.
Frank Wild, Ernest Shackleton, Eric Marshall and Jameson
Adams. Their food rations ran out when they
were just 97 miles from being the first men to reach the South Pole.
| he also turned to Frank Wild's
experience. He called him "Antarctica's oldest resident"
and having accompanied Shackleton's expedition himself had noted
Frank's "high merits as an explorer and leader".
To find out as much as he could Mawson divided his expedition into
separate groups and Wild was place in charge of six men. From a base on
floating ice at the western edge of the Shackleton Ice Shelf, an area
that was to become known
as the windiest place on earth, Wild and his team sledged in every
direction mapping a region he was to name Queen Mary Land.
Shackleton's "Endurance" 1914-16.
On his return to England, Wild was selected as Second in Command by
Shackleton for the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and
became a player in one of the greatest real-life adventure stories that
has been the source of many books.
The 28 man team set out in August 1914, but never made it to Antarctica
through the dense ice floes of the Weddell Sea. By February 1915 the
Endurance was trapped and slowly being crushed. Floating at random with
the drifting ice floe the men lived on and by the ship until November
when the "Endurance" sank. They were left with 3 boats and anything
they could salvage, reduced to hunting seal and
Efforts to drag the boats to open water failed and it was not until
April 1916 that the ice broke up sufficiently to
enable them to reach the barren rocks of Elephant Island, the first
time for 497 days that they had stood on land.
Without any means of
communication, Shackleton decided to attempt the seemingly impossible
800 mile journey to S Georgia to seek
Worsley the ship's captain to guide them.
22 men were left on the island with Frank Wild in charge. It was
Frank's brainwave to create a shelter by inverting the two remaining
boats on rocks and filling in the gaps with whatever they could find.
For 138 days they lived thus on penguin
meat and by the light of penguin blubber lamps. Shackleton's epic
voyage miraculously succeeded and the men could hardly believe it when,
on the 30th August 1917 they saw a Chilean steamer, the "Yelcho"
appear. Everyone of the 28 men, who had set out survived, thanks to the
heroic efforts of their two leaders.
A Newspaper Report of the Time.
Punta Arenas, Chili, Saturday, 9th September 1916.
Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men are leaving here next week for "Buenos Ayres" en route for England. The party will probably arrive
in England at the end of October.
Sir Ernest Shackleton and Mr Frank Wild granted me an interview today and gave me the first full account of the rescue of the
marooned men on Elephant Island and of their life there.
For the first three weeks several of the party suffered from frostbite and were ill from exposure. All, however, slowly recovered.
The ice-hole in which shelter was taken on landing soon became unbearable owing to snow. Wild realising that existence would be
impossible under the conditions which has set in, turned the two remaining small boats upside down, supported on rocks to form a
roof and fixed spare canvas at the sides to make walls. Chronometer cases served for windows. Upper bunks for half the party were
provided by the thwarts, [crosswise struts in a boat to brace it], the remainder having to be content with beds made from pebbles
collected from the beach. For light they had nothing better than a blubber lamp, while the cooking stove was extemporised out of
old oil tins.
A Typical Day
When dawn broke at eight o'clock, the cook set to work to prepare breakfast, a task that, with the primitive cooking arrangements
at his disposal, was a long one, and it was not until ten that the meal was ready. It consisted generally merely of penguin fried in
blubber with a drink of water.
Breakfast over, snow drifts were cleared and penguins caught ashore. Whenever the sea was free from ice, a man was detailed as a
lookout, for no one doubted that the party would be rescued in time. One cheerful optimist, indeed, rolled up his bed every morning
with expectation of the rescue ship with Sir Ernest Shackleton arriving at any moment.
The morning's duties having been carried out, at one o'clock lunch - biscuits with raw blubber was served.
The afternoon was occupied
by regulated exercise over a track of 100 yards in length. At five, when darkness fell, all were ready for dinner, the menu
consisting of penguin breast with a sustaining hot drink made from one bovril ration.
A Substitute for Tobacco.
Lacking tobacco, the men smoked grass taken from the padding of their boots, while pipes were carved from birds bones and wood.
At 5.30 all turned in. The members of the party took it in turns to read aloud from the only surviving books of the little library
which had been rescued from the Endurance - the Bible, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Browning, Carlyle's "French Revolution" and
Bacon's Essays being read in turn.
On Saturday the evening was marked by a concert, the feature of which was the banjo playing by Hussey. This was the only musical
instrument the marooned men possessed. Sir Ernest took it off the Endurance just before she was abondoned as a mental tonic.
The King's birthday was celebrated with as much eclat as possible, the Union Jack which His Majesty presented to Sir Ernest
Shackleton to carry on the expedition being hoisted and the Royal health being loyally drunk in hot sledging ration.
On one occasion, there was an unexpected bill of fare. Some undigested fish were found in the stomach of a seal and were greatly
This was the only fish that was obtained, for it was impossible to put out any lines. At the beginning of August they secured a
welcome change of diet. The ice began to melt and the rocks were exposed. Limpets were gathered in large numbers and a great deal of
seaweed was available and made a very valuable vegetable.
The health of the party during their prolonged stay on the island was maintained as far as possible by constant watchfulness on the
part of the two surgeons - Dr Macklin and Dr McIlroy in consultation with Mr Wild. Owing to these precautions no trace of scurvy
appeared. Slight sickness, due to the foul water from the penguin summer rockery, was cured by the judicious use of the scanty
farinaceous stores, which still remained during the latter part of the stay.
Blizzards were of frequent occurrence during the Winter and sometimes the party had to keep cover for days together in crowded
and most uncomfortable conditions.
Hope of eventual rescue was never abandoned and good spirits were a great factor in maintaining health.
On August the 3rd, Wild told me, most of the party were just sitting down to a seaweed and limpet lunch when there were shouts from
Hurley and Marston, who were outside the hut that a ship was in sight. All hands rushed out and through the lifting fog amongst the
great grounded bergs they saw a little vessel. She was apparently steaming past the camp and Wild started making smoke signals to
attract her attention.
Within five minutes the suspense was over and the Yelcho was seen swinging round directly for the spot where the party were clustered.
A boat was dropped and rowed rapidly towards the shore.
Three ringing cheers greeted its approach and as soon as Sir Ernest, who was in the boat, was within hailing distance a chorus of
"All well!" reached his ears and must have gladdened his heart.
"When was the War over?" was the first question which Wild and his comrades put to their rescuers. They had heard nothing of the
outside World since October 1914, when the Endurance left Buenos Ayres.
Frank Wild's Own Description of Conditions on Elephant Island.
"On April 25th, the day after the departure of the boat, the island was beset by dense pack-ice. The party was confined to a narrow
spit of land 250 yards long and 40 yards wide, surrounded by inaccessible cliffs and ice-laden seas. We were forced to abandon our
ice-hole, which was made untenable by the snow. We made a dwelling of our boats supported by rocks and set up as far as practicable
from the sea.
The weather continued appalling. It was difficult to work and the vitality of the whole party was lowered to exposure.
Blackboro, Hudson, Greenstreet and Rickinson became ill and several others were frostbitten.
In May a heavy blizzard swept much valuable gear into the sea and we were in grave anxiety owing to the danger of being swept
away by the heavy seas raised by the blizzard, which was blowing at the velocity of 70 miles an hour.
Fortunately, owing to the low temperature, an ice pool formed on the seashore and this protection was the means of saving us from
On several occasions the adjacent glacier "calved", throwing up heavy waves and on one occasion blocks of ice were hurled to within
15 feet of our dwelling.
Economising Food Supply.
Observing how the island was beset, I realised the difficulty our leader must experience in effecting our early relief and, as a
measure of precaution, I drastically economised our food. I allowed only one hot meal daily until we had strengthened our reserve of
blubber. Our valuable stock of Bovril rations was used for two meals weekly, thus supplying a vital change in our diet and life was
We were kept in anxiety as to our meat supply, which was constantly depleted. It was periodically replenished by small penguins, but
the seals were unable to land owing to the ice pool.
From June onward the weather was better as regards wind, but we were under a constant pall of fog and snow. In the middle of the
Winter Blackboro's toes had to be amputated.
Whenever the sea opened, our hopes of relief were renewed. The three previous attempts at relief had synchronised with the times
when the island was beset with ice.
At the beginning of August we were able to collect seaweed and limpets, which formed a valuable change in our diet, but the deep
water, heavy seas and ice prevented us from fishing.
On August 28th the gale drove the pack from the island and on the 30th through the lifting fog we caught sight of the Yelcho steering
through a mase of stranded bergs. An hour later we were homeward bound."
Shackleton's "Quest" 1921-22.
The men who had been out of touch since 1914, were amazed to find the
First World War was still being fought. Frank Wild was given a position
in the Royal Navy and made trips to Spitzbergen and Russia. After the
War he went to S Africa
and cleared areas of virgin land to try tobacco farming, without any
great success. When Shackleton called for him once
more to join yet another Antarctic venture in the "Quest", Wild was
back in his element. Sadly Shackleton died of a heart attack during
this expedition. Wild took over command and left Antarctica for the
A Sad End.
He married a lady that he had met on his War trips to Russia and
returned to S Africa, where he tried his hand at cotton
farming and then a scheme to lay rail track.
Sir Ernest Shackleton's Grave on South Georgia.
|He did not find the same success as he had as an explorer.
Financial problems saw the failure of his business ventures and his
marriage ended in divorce in 1928. He re-married, but
his career went further downhill. He ended up bar-tending, drinking too
much and lecturing on his Antarctic exploits
to pay the bills. Frank died in Klerksdorp, S Africa on the 19th August
1939 from pneumonia. The location of his ashes has not been remembered.
He was awarded the CBE, the Geographical Society's Livingstone Gold Medal for the most outstanding feat of exploration South of the Equator and the Polar Medal with 4 clasps, an
achievement no other man could match. Cape Wild on Elephant Island is named after him, as is Mount Wild and Point Wild in other parts of the Antarctic, although most map readers
probably think "wild" refers to the climate.
[When one considers the often insubstantial characters, the pansy entertainers, corrupt politicians and businessmen etc who are awarded knighthoods today, it is a tragedy that Frank's heroic life was not
more worthily honoured by his once great nation. Or maybe it is good yardstick, by which to explain its modern day downfall.]
27th November 2011. Burial of Frank Wild's Ashes on South Georgia.
It is said that Frank Wild's dying wish was to be buried alongside his "boss", Sir Ernest Shackleton.
It was intended to transport his ashes after the cremation in Johannesburg to the South Atlantic island of South Georgia, where
Shackleton had died of a heart attack in 1922. The outbreak of the Second World War caused the idea to be abandoned.
In January 2011 Wild's remains were traced to a vault in Braamfontein Cemetery, Johannesburg by the writer Angie Butler, who was
researching her book "The Quest for Frank Wild".
On the 27th November 2011 descendants of both Wild and Shackleton gathered for a service in the small wooden whalers' Church at
Gritviken, S Georgia, prior to burying Frank's ashes on the right side of Shackleton's grave.
A gravestone in rough hewn granite is inscribed:-
"Frank Wild, 1873 to 1939. Shackleton's right-hand man."