Tom Crean was an Irish seaman and Antarctic explorer from County Kerry. He left the family farm near Annascaul to enlist in the British Royal Navy at the age of 15. In 1901, while serving on HMS Ringarooma in New Zealand, he volunteered to join Robert Falcon Scott's 1901–04 British National Antarctic Expedition on Discovery, thus beginning a distinguished career as an explorer during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Crean was a member of three of the four major British expeditions to Antarctica during this period. After the Discovery Expedition he joined Captain Scott's 1911–13 Terra Nova Expedition, which saw the race to reach the South Pole lost to Roald Amundsen, and ended in the deaths of Scott and his polar party. During this expedition Crean's 35-mile (56 km) solo walk across the Ross Ice Shelf to save the life of Edward Evans led to him receiving the Albert Medal. His third Antarctic venture was the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on Endurance led by Ernest Shackleton, in which he served as Second Officer. After Endurance became beset in the pack ice and sank, he was a participant in a dramatic series of events including months spent drifting on the ice, a journey in lifeboats to Elephant Island, and an open boat journey of 800 nautical miles (920 statute miles, 1,500 km) from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Upon reaching South Georgia, Crean was one of the party of three which undertook the first land crossing of the island, without maps or proper mountaineering equipment.
His contributions to these expeditions earned him three Polar Medals, and a reputation as a tough and dependable polar traveller. After the Endurance expedition Crean returned to the Navy, and when his naval career ended in 1920 he moved back to County Kerry. In his home town of Annascaul, he and his wife Ellen opened a public house called the "South Pole Inn". He lived there quietly and unobtrusively until his death in 1938.