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Elephant Island and Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees Hardcover – Illustrated, 20 May 2003
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Orde Lees returned from Shackleton s 1914 expedition with the reputation of being the least popular and most criticised of the men involved with the Endurance, and his sullied reputation continued up to his death in 1958. Heavily castigated in most published accounts of Shackleton s adventure (but, curiously, not by Shackleton himself) he was called cowardly and lazy and cowardly. That Orde Lees diary remained unpublished until 2003 undoubtedly denied him the opportunity of speaking up for himself. This belated and most welcomed book is, therefore, a boon to revisionist historians, and is a redemptive testament to a much misunderstood and unfairly maligned man. Joe O Farrell is a historian and writer on Polar matters and the above was taken from an article in which the he gives his own personal top-ten favourite polar books which have given him the greatest reading pleasure. Elephant Island and Beyond was No 6 in his list. --Nimrod The Journal of the Ernest Shackleton Autumn School, October, 2007 Joe O Farrell.
History has been particularly unkind to Orde Lees. The professional marine recruited as the expedition s motor expert has been widely portrayed as a pompous, ingratiating snob who, rumour has it, was the first on the list of men to be killed and eaten by the starving men marooned of Elephant Island if Shackleton had not succeeded in rescuing them. That he was unpopular is indisputable...yet his willingness to shoulder the burden of quartermaster was key to their survival. The slurs that have tainted Orde Lees memory are given short shrift in John Thompson s brilliant revisionist study of the polar explorer who was later decorated for his bravery in pioneering the development of the parachute as a life-saver for aviators. Merging biographical narrative with the most complete version of [his] oft-plundered diaries to be published, Thomson reveals a man at odds with the image that has been created; a man far more tolerant and forgiving of his companions that they ever were of him...To read his Antarctic diary entries is to be astonished by the ingenuity and awed by the sheer resolution and steadfastness under the most trying conditions imaginable. --Eastern Daily Press, July, 2003
About the Author
John Bell Thomson is a retired journalist living in New Zealand. he had a 50 year newspaper and newsagency career in New Zealand, Australia, Britain and East Africa. This is his third book, and the second concerning members of the Shackleton expedition of 1914-16.
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A number of chapters act as a biography of Orde Lees, but each is written as a separate essay, repeating information available in other chapters and not quite hanging together properly. Bizarrely, the last chapter of the book is actually the life story of Orde Lees' first child. This is quite interesting but totally out of place in a biography of the man himself.
The bulk of the book is, quite naturally, taken up with the diary Thomas Orde Lees wrote on his journey under Shackleton in the Endurance. This diary has often been 'mined' by historians to aid their stories of the expedition but, as the editor points out, it has never been published in full. He also states that this was the only diary which was maintained for the whole expedition, beginning as they went to sea from England and ending with their return home. After establishing how valuable the diary is, he then summarises the first four months! This is astounding. From then on, we get a daily diary entry. Even so, this is a fragmentary product rather than a complete work. Disputes between Orde Lees and Shackleton are mostly rewritten by the editor and presented in italics. The result feels like censorship. I was reading this book to get Orde Lees' story, not a tidied up version, and surely I can determine for myself how trustworthy his account is. If, of course, the diary doesn't mention an event surely the editor shouldn't be adding it. Even accepting all this, the published diary is incomplete in other ways. The pictures include a facsimile diary entry beside the published version for the same day. The published version is quite clearly missing sentences and paragraphs readable in the facsimile. If this is the case for that day, how much has silently gone missing in every other entry of the diary? Why has it been skipped? This is never even mentioned.
The result is a totally unscholarly product where, in the end, we cannot trust the published diary to be an accurate representation of Orde Lees original report. The man comes across as a most interesting, unusual, individual both in his own words and in the story of the rest of his life. It's a great pity that the central diary is so poorly presented.