William H. Stephenson
1889 - 1953
Biographical notes

Fireman Endurance 1914-17 - 25 at the start of the expedition

The Endurance Expedition

William Stephenson was the senior stoker on board the Endurance (fireman in the days of steam engines meant someone who kept fires going rather than someone who put them out), his task was to to tend the engine boiler and ensure there was enough steam to power the engines. When the Endurance was crushed therefore, his job as well as that of his mate Holness, came to an end.

It is somewhat unclear why Stephenson and Holness were not recommended for Polar Medals by Shackleton on return to England. Only four of the crew were not given Polar Medals, the other two being McNish and Vincent for whom there were reasons of a lack of loyalty and breaches of discipline that are understandable. It is generally thought that for whatever reason, Shackleton decided that Stephenson and Holness did not come up to the standards that he expected. It does seem intriguing though that they happened to be the two men whose direct jobs quite clearly ended with the Endurance, perhaps it was unclear as to what their roles were following that event?

He is mentioned only occasionally and in passing in the diaries of Shackleton and Orde-Lees which otherwise give some indications as to the activities and characters of the men.


William Stephenson was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, he had been a trawlerman on the fishing boats sailing out of Hull, Grimsby and Bridlington.

There is little known about him, either prior to, or after the Endurance expedition. He had been a Royal marine in the Chatham division, and had been an officers servant.

After the expedition, he is assumed to have returned to Hull and carried on his previous job working on trawlers. The next record of him is that he died of cancer, in a Hull hospital aged 64 in 1953.

Buenos Aries 1917

Some of the crew of the Endurance photographed in Buenos Aries 1917
picture courtesy Robin Mackenzie- Stornoway Historical Society

References to William Stephenson by Orde-Lees in "Elephant Island and Beyond" buy USA   buy UK

  • Except on blizzard days, we mostly prefer the outside work. We are allowed to provide substitutes. Stephenson aleways deputises for me in return for half a penguin steak. Cutting blubber into thin strips and stuffing them on the fire every five minutes is just the work he seems cut out for.

Other Crew of the Endurance Expedition

Bakewell, William - Able Seaman
Blackborow, Percy - Stowaway (later steward)
Cheetham, Alfred - Third Officer
Clark, Robert S. - Biologist
Crean, Thomas - Second Officer
Green, Charles J. - Cook
Greenstreet, Lionel - First Officer
Holness, Ernest - Fireman/stoker
How, Walter E. - Able Seaman
Hudson, Hubert T. - Navigator
Hurley, James Francis (Frank) - Official Photographer
Hussey, Leonard D. A. - Meteorologist
James, Reginald W. - Physicist
Kerr, Alexander. J. - Second Engineer

Macklin, Dr. Alexander H. - Surgeon
Marston, George E. - Official Artist
McCarthy, Timothy - Able Seaman
McIlroy, Dr. James A. - Surgeon
McLeod, Thomas - Able Seaman
McNish, Henry - Carpenter
Orde-Lees, Thomas  - Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Rickinson, Lewis - First Engineer
Shackleton, Ernest H. - Expedition Leader
Stephenson, William - Fireman/stoker
Vincent, John - Able Seaman
Wild, Frank - Second in Command
Wordie, James M. - Geologist
Worsley, Frank - Captain

Biographical information - I am concentrating on the Polar experiences of the men involved. Any further information or pictures visitors may have will be gratefully received. Please email  - Paul Ward, webmaster.

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  Ernest Shackleton Books and Video

South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition
South - Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)
original footage - DVD

Shackleton - The Greatest Survival Story of All Time (3-Disc Collector's Edition)
Kenneth Branagh (2002) - DVD

Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (Large Format)
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure (2001)
IMAX dramatization - DVD

The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
The Endurance - Shackleton's Legendary Expedition (2000)
PBS NOVA, dramatization with original footage - DVD
Endurance, The Greatest Adventure Story Ever Told, book
Endurance : Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
Alfred Lansing (Preface) - Book

South with Endurance:
Frank Hurley - official photographer

South: The Story of Shackleton's Last Expedition, 1914-17
South! Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's own words

 Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer
Shackleton's Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer

Shackleton's Boat Journey: The narrative of Frank Worsley


biography by Roland

The Quest for Frank Wild, biography by Angie Butler

The Endurance : Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition
by Caroline Alexander

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat

Shackleton's Forgotten Men
Lennard Bickel

Elephant Island and Beyond: The Life and Diaries of Thomas Orde Lees Book
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, The True Story of the Endurance Expedition
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World -
Jennifer Armstrong
for ages 12 and up