THE true story of Newport sailor Perce Blackborow, who stowed away on Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated voyage to Antarctica in 1914, is featured in a new adventure novel by a Californian author.

Mr Blackborow was only 18 years old when he sneaked aboard Shackleton's ship, Endurance, in Buenos Aires and headed for the icy waters of Antarctica.

But his dream adventure turned into a test of survival, for after Mr Blackborow was taken in by the crew, their ship was crushed in the polar ice, leaving them hopelessly marooned.

Now, more than 100 years later, author Willy Mitchell has brought the story of the Newport stowaway and the Endurance expedition to a new audience, in his novel Cold Courage: Extraordinary Times.

South Wales Argus:

Perce Blackborow pictured with the Endurance cat Mrs Chippy. Picture: The Royal Geographical Society

"Throughout the most extreme adversity, losing his toes to gangrene, Blackborow was always positive, cheery, [and] the young Welshman lightened the hearts and the spirits of the crew throughout the ordeal," said Mr Mitchell, originally from Glasgow.

"His story was one of hope, one of escaping the dark skies of industry and war, and finding adventure beyond the shores of Wales.

"Finding adventure in faraway lands, on the high seas, and to the coldest, most inhospitable place on the planet, he returned to Newport as a true and well deserved hero."

Mr Mitchell's research for the project was helped by historian Andrew Hemmings, from Rogerstone. In his 2017 book Secret Newport, Mr Hemmings documented the Endurance expedition's connections to the city.


"Perce had a sense of adventure, and he didn't want to be separated from his friend [who had joined the Endurance crew in Argentina]," Mr Hemmings said.

"So he stowed away in a locker until they were too far out to sea for him to be returned to mainland."

Mr Hemmings called Mr Blackborow's exploits "somewhere between sheer lunacy and bravado". After coming out of hiding, the stowaway was given a thorough telling-off by Shackleton and then put to work in the ship's kitchen, but soon endeared himself to the Endurance crew.

South Wales Argus:

Ernest Shackleton. PA Photo/Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge©

The expedition took a turn for the worse, however. The ship became trapped in pack ice and over the course of several months was slowly crushed, before sinking and leaving its crew stranded.

Mr Mitchell said his book follows the "extraordinary leadership, survival, grit, determination and bravery" of Shackleton and his crew as they struggled to survive in extreme conditions, thousands of miles from home.

South Wales Argus:

The Endurance imprisoned in the Antarctic ice. Picture: The Royal Geographical Society

For months, the crew drifted on floating ice and in lifeboats to the uninhabited Elephant Island, by which time Mr Blackborow was suffering from frostbite in his feet. This turned gangrenous, and the Newport sailor's toes had to be amputated by ship's surgeon Alexander Macklin.

South Wales Argus:

The men on Elephant Island. Perce Blackborow, unable to stand, is sitting with his legs outstretched. Picture: The Royal Geographical Society

But as the situation grew worse, Shackleton led a heroic rescue of his crew, and after three months in a Chilean hospital, Mr Blackborow returned to Newport and a hero's welcome.

The desperate situation in Antarctica had not sapped Mr Blackborow's courage - he soon volunteered to join the Royal Navy and serve in the First World War, but was turned down because of his amputated toes.

South Wales Argus:

REPORT: How the Argus reported the rescue of Shackleton's men, including Perce Blackborow (pictured)

He was, however, accepted by the Mercantile Marine (later the Merchant Navy), and served until 1919, when he settled back into Newport life as a dock boatman in the Alexandra Docks.

He received the Bronze Polar Medal for his service on the Endurance expedition, and died in 1949.

"He is one of Newport's heroes, who is much loved - but under-celebrated - in the city of his birth," said Mr Hemmings.

Cold Courage: Extraordinary Times by Willy Mitchell, published by iUniverse; and Secret Newport by Andrew Hemmings, published by Amberley; are both available now.