Captain Ken #31 - Interesting People

Captain Ken Owen had a long career at sea which included sailing as master with Overseas Containers Limited (OCL), P&O Containers and P&O Nedlloyd.   Ken is now retired and in 2020 he started writing a monthly article for publication using the pen name 'Captain Ken' in the Mellor Church Outlook magazine.

A number of articles that Ken has written are about his time at sea and he has very kindly agreed that we can share them here.  

This is the 31st of Captain Ken's articles that we have published on the PONL Heritage site, and it tells of an encounter with a very interesting passenger on the Blue Funnel ship 'Glenroy'.    

This article was first published in the church magazine in November 2023.

(This article was first published in the November 2023 edition of the Mellor Church Outlook Magazine).

One particular pleasure received from my quite long sea career has been the variety of really interesting people I have been privileged to befriend.

Outstanding amongst these must surely be Dr. James McIlroy.

It was in the 1960s when I was Second Mate of the cargo passenger ship ‘Glenroy’ and Dr. McIlroy, in his late eighties, was enjoying a retirement voyage with us.

Nobody on board ‘Glenroy’ knew who this very pleasant elderly passenger was and it was only when enjoying a drink together, and discussing the Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, that I realised he was the surgeon of the wrecked ‘Endurance’ and then stranded with the crew on Elephant Island while Shackleton and two officers sailed an epic small boat passage to South Georgia whaling station to enable a rescue of the remaining crew while McIlroy was having to cut off some of the men’s frost bitten toes.  

As we frequently enjoyed conversation together, I realised Jim had been to the South Pole twice, the North Pole once, fought and been captured in two World Wars.  He was the surgeon on the Orient Line’s ‘Oronsay’ when she was torpedoed off West Africa and spent several days in a life boat before being captured.

When he claimed to have visited every country in the world except Mexico, I did think he was exaggerated, but later learned that he had in fact accompanied Prince Battenberg, as medical advisor, on his World trip.

Together with explorer Frank Wild, he owned a cotton plantation in Nyasaland until they were persuaded to join Shackleton on his final expedition where very sadly Shackleton suffered a heart attack in South Georgia and actually died in McIlroy’s arms.

As ever Dr. McIlroy was the most travelled person I ever met, I did ask him where was the nicest place in the world.  And he said “Well I’ve only discovered it on this trip, and it is ‘The Lone Pine Hotel’ on Penang Island, Malaysia.  Many years later after he died, the British Admiralty made a new survey of South Georgia and named one of the mountain peaks Mount McIlroy.

I have never sailed near South Georgia, so was very pleased years later when I heard that Maggie, our ‘Mellor Birds’ contributor, was taking an Antarctic Bird Watching cruise.  I asked if she could identify the relevant mountain peak on South Georgia which she kindly did, and this is the picture.

Mount McIlroy is identified with the arrow.

Further reading:

For further articles in this series:

Captain Ken Owen has kindly provided us with a new series of articles which will be published on a regular basis here.  If you are interested in reading other articles that he has written which we haven't yet used then please feel free to go to