Harry McNish

Harry McNish

Infobox Person
name= Harry "Chippy" McNish

caption= Photo of McNish cropped from the 1914–1917 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition crew photo.
birth_date= birth date|1874|9|11|df=y
birth_place= Port Glasgow, Scotland
death_date= death date and age|1930|9|24|1874|9|11|df=y
death_place=Wellington, New Zealand
occupation= Carpenter
spouse= Jessie Smith
Ellen Timothy
Lizzie Littlejohn

Harry McNish (real name Henry McNish, often referred to as Harry McNeish or by the nickname Chippy) (11 September 1874 – 24 September 1930) was the carpenter on Sir Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917. He was responsible for much of the work that ensured the crew's survival after their ship, the "Endurance", was destroyed when it became trapped in pack ice in the Weddell Sea. He modified the small boat, "James Caird", that allowed Shackleton and five men (including McNish) to make a voyage of hundreds of miles to fetch help for the rest of the crew. He briefly refused to follow orders on the crew's long trek pulling the boats across the pack ice, and, despite his efforts during the journey, was one of only four of the crew not to receive the Polar Medal.cite book|title=South|author=Sir Ernest Shackleton|origdate=1919|year=1999|publisher=Penguin Books|location=Great Britain|id=ISBN 978-0-14-028886-5|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5199]

After the expedition he returned to work in the Merchant Navy and eventually immigrated to New Zealand, where he worked on the docks in Wellington until ill-health forced his retirement. He died destitute in the Ohiro Benevolent Home in Wellington.

Early life

Harry "Chippy" McNish was born in 1874 in the former Lyons Lane near the present site of the library in Port Glasgow, Renfrewshire, Scotland.cite web|publisher=Greenock Telegraph|date=2006-10-19|url= http://www.greenocktelegraph.co.uk/readstory.php?id=7760| title='Chippy' honoured|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] Ref_label|A|a|none He was part of a large family, being the third of eleven children born to John and Mary Jane (née Wade) McNish. His father was a journeyman shoemaker. McNish held strong socialist views, was a member of the United Free Church of Scotland and detested bad language.cite web|url=http://www.visitandlearn.co.uk/factfiles05/obit21.asp|title=Endurance Obituaries: Henry McNish|publisher=Endurance Tracking project|year=2005|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006] He married three times: in 1895 to Jessie Smith, who died in February 1898; in 1898 to Ellen Timothy, who died in December 1904; and finally to Lizzie Littlejohn in 1907.

There is some confusion as to the correct spelling of his name. He is variously referred to as McNish,cite web|publisher=The James Caird Society|date=2006-11-03|url=http://www.jamescairdsociety.com/latest.php|title=Shackleton news|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] McNeish, and in Alexander Macklin's diary of the expedition he is listed as MacNish.cite web|url=http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/library/archives/shackleton/images/p5062279.html|title=Virtual Shackleton: Alexander Macklin's diary, of Shackleton's Imperial Trans - Antarctic Expedition (page)|author=Alexander Hepburne Macklin|publisher=Scott Polar Research Institute|location=Cambridge, UK|date=2004-07-29|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006] The MacNeish spelling is common, notably in Shackleton's and Frank Worsley's accounts of the expedition and on McNish's headstone, but McNish is also widely used, [cite web|publisher=American Museum of Natural History|year=2001|url=http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/shackleton/beset.html|title=The Expedition: Beset|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006 (Identifying the accompanying diary entry as being from the diary of Henry "Chippy" McNish)] and appears to be the correct version.cite web|url=gnis3|type=antarid|9763|title=Antarctica Feature Detail: McNish Island|publisher=U.S. Department of the Interior: U.S. Geological Survey|date=1998-09-25|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006] On a signed copy of the expedition photo his signature appears as "H. MacNish", but his spelling is in general idiosyncratic, as revealed in the diary he kept throughout the expedition.cite book|title=South With Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Expedition 1914–1917: The Photographs of Frank Hurley|pages=10–31|author=Tamiko Rex(Ed.)|publisher=Bloomsbury|location=London|year=2001|id=ISBN 0-7475-7534-7] There also is a question regarding McNish's nickname. "Chippy" was a traditional nickname for a shipwright;cite web|url=http://www.royal-navy.mod.uk/server/show/nav.3807|title=Navy S _pu. year=2006|accessdate=17 November|accessyear=2006] both this and the shorter "Chips" (as in wood chips from carpentry) seem to have been used. [cite web|publisher=The Antarctic Circle|date=2006-08-19|url=http://www.antarctic-circle.org/nicknames.htm|title=Some Antarctic Nicknames|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006]

Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition


The aim of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was to be the first to cross the Antarctic continent from one side to the other. McNish was apparently attracted by Shackleton's advertisement for the expeditioncite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2906_shacklet.html|title=Transcript:Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance|publisher=PBS|date=2002-03-26|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] (although there are doubts as to whether the advertisement ever appeared):cite web|url=http://www.antarctic-circle.org/advert.htm|title=Shackleton Quote|publisher=The Antarctic Circle|accessdate=17 November|accessyear=2006]

McNish, at 40, was one of the oldest members of the crew of the "Endurance" (Shackleton though was seven months older). He suffered from piles and rheumatism in his legs, and was regarded as somewhat odd and unrefined, but also highly respected as a carpenter — Frank Worsley, the captain of the "Endurance", refers to him as a "splendid shipwright".cite book|title=Shackleton's Boat Journey|author=F.A. Worsley|publisher=Pimlico|year=1998|id=ISBN 0-7126-6574-9] Ref_label|B|b|none The pipe-smoking Scot was, however, the only man of the crew that Shackleton was "not dead certain of".cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/1914/team.html#mcneish|title=Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance: Meet the Team|publisher=PBS|date=2002-03|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] His Scots accent was described as rasping like "frayed cable wire".cite book|title=Men of Antarctica|author=Gerald Bowman|pages=72|year=1959|publisher=Fleet Publishing|id=ISBN 1121335918]

During the initial stage of the voyage to Antarctica from Buenos Aires, he was kept busy with a number of routine tasks. He worked on the pram dinghy "Nancy Endurance"; made a small chest of drawers for Shackleton; specimen shelves for the biologist, Robert Clark; instrument cases for Leonard Hussey, the meteorologist; and put up wind screens to protect the helmsman.cite web|url=http://www.antarctic.org.nz/pages/journal/articles/art33.php|title=Harry McNish -An insight into Shackleton's Carpenter|author=Andrew Leachman|publisher=New Zealand Antarctic Society|date=|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006] He constructed a false deck, extending from the poop-deck to the chart-room to cover the extra coal that the ship had taken on board. He also acted as the ship's barber.cite book|title=Polar Crusader: Sir James Wordie - Exploring the Arctic and Antarctic|author=Michael Smith|publisher=Birlinn Ltd|year=2004|pages=371|id=ISBN 1841582921] As the ship pushed into the pack ice in the Weddell Sea it became increasingly difficult to navigate. McNish constructed a six-foot wooden semaphore on the bridge to enable the navigating officer to give the helmsman directions, and built a small stage over the stern to allow the propeller to be watched in order to keep it clear of the heavy ice.

When the ship became trapped in pack ice his duties expanded to constructing makeshift housing, and, once it became clear that the ship was doomed, to altering the sledges for the journey over the ice to open water. He built the quarters where the crew took their meals (nicknamed "The Ritz") and cubicles where the men could sleep. These were all christened as well; McNish shared "The Sailors’ Rest" with Alfred Cheetham, the Third Officer. Assisted by the crew, he constructed kennels for the dogs on the upper deck. Once "Endurance" became trapped, and the crew were spending the days on the ice, McNish erected goalposts and football became a daily fixture for the men. To pass the time in the evening, McNish joined Frank Wild, Tom Crean, James McIlroy, Worsley and Shackleton playing poker in the wardroom.cite book|title=Shackleton|author=Roland Huntford|publisher=Carroll & Graf Publishers|year=1998|id=ISBN 0786705442|pages=774]

The pressure from the ice caused "Endurance" to start to take on water. To prevent the ship from flooding McNish built a cofferdam, caulking it with strips of blankets and nailing strips over the seams,cite book|title=South|author=Sir Ernest Shackleton|date=|url=http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5199] standing for hours up to his waist in water as he worked.cite book|title=Endurance|author=Caroline Alexander|publisher=Bloomsbury|year=1998|location=London|id=ISBN 074754123X|pages=211] He could not prevent the pressure from the ice crushing the ship though and was experienced enough to know when to stop trying. Once the ship had been destroyed he was put in charge of rescuing the stores from what had been "The Ritz". With McNish in charge it took only a couple of hours to open the deck far enough to retrieve a good quantity of provisions.cite book|title=Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage|author=Alfred Lansing|year=2000|firstdate=1959|publisher=Phoenix|id=ISBN 0-75380-987-7|pages=304]

On the ice

During his watch one night while the crew were camped on the ice, a small part of the ice floe broke away and he was only rescued due to the quick intervention of the men of the next watch who threw him a line allowing him to jump back to safety.cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/1914/diary.html|title=Shackleton's Voyage of Endurance: Diary of a survivor|author=Thomas Orde-Lees|publisher=PBS|date=2002-03|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] Shackleton reported that McNish calmly mentioned his narrow escape the next day after further cracks appeared in the ice. Mrs. Chippy, the cat McNish had brought on board, had to be shot after the loss of the "Endurance", as it was obvious heRef_label|C|c|none would not survive the harsh conditions. McNish apparently never forgave Shackleton for giving the order.cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3818613.stm|author=Kim Griggs|publisher=BBC|title=Antarctic hero 'reunited' with cat|date=2004-06-21|accessdate=7 November|accessyear=2006]

McNish proposed building a smaller craft from the wreckage of the ship, but was overruled, with Shackleton instead deciding to head across the ice to open water pulling the ship's three lifeboats. McNish had been suffering with piles and homesickness almost even before the voyage had began, and once the ship was lost his frustration began to grow. He vented his feelings in his diary, targeting his tentmates' language:

In great pain while pulling sledges across the ice, McNish briefly rebelled, refusing to take his turn in the harness and protesting to Frank Worsley that since the "Endurance" had been destroyed the crew was no longer under any obligation to follow orders. Accounts vary as to how Shackleton handled this: some report that he threatened to shoot McNish; others that he read him the ship's articles, making it clear that the crew were still under obligation until they reached port.cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/1914/alexandra.html|title=Tending Sir Ernest's Legacy: An Interview with Alexandra Shackleton|publisher=PBS|date=2002-03|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] McNish's assertion would have normally been correct: duty to the master (and pay) normally stopped when a ship was lost, but the articles the crew had signed for the "Endurance" had a special clause inserted in which the crew agreed "to perform any duty on board, in the boats, or on the shore as directed by the master and owner". Aside from this, McNish really had no choice but to comply: he could not survive alone and could not continue with the rest of the party unless he obeyed orders. Eventually, Shackleton decided that the attempt to pull the boats had been a mistake, and decided that the only solution was to wait for the movement of the ice to bring the party to open water.

As supplies began to dwindle the party grew hungry. McNish records that he smoked himself sick trying to alleviate the pangs of hunger and although he thought the shooting of the dogs terribly sad, he was happy to eat the meat they provided:

When the ice finally brought the camp to the edge of the pack ice, Shackleton decided that the three boats, the "James Caird", "Stancomb Wills" and "Dudley Docker", should make initially for Elephant Island. McNish had prepared the boats as best he could for a long journey in the open ocean, building up their sides to give them a higher clearance from the water.

Elephant Island and the "James Caird"

On the sea journey to Elephant Island, McNish was in the "James Caird" with Shackleton and Frank Wild. As they approached the island, Wild, who had been at the tiller for 24 hours straight, was close to collapse, so Shackleton ordered McNish to relieve him. McNish was not in a much better state himself and, despite the terrible conditions, he fell asleep after half an hour. The boat swung around and a huge wave drenched him. This was enough to wake him, but Shackleton, seeing McNish too was exhausted, ordered him to be relieved.

After the crew had made it to Elephant Island, Shackleton decided to take a small crew and make for South Georgia, where there was a possibility that they would find crews from the whaling ships to help effect a rescue for the rest of the men. McNish was called upon by Shackleton to make the "James Caird" seaworthy for the long voyage and was selected as part of the crew, possibly because Shackleton was afraid of the effect he would have on morale if left behind with the other men. For his part, McNish seemed happy to go; he was unimpressed by the island and the chances of survival for the men overwintering there:cite web|url=http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/shackleton/journey.html|title=Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Journey: The Great Boat Journey|publisher=American Museum of Natural History|year=2001|accessdate=14 November|accessyear=2006] McNish used the mast of another of the boats, the "Stancomb Wills", to strengthen the keel and build up the small 22 foot (6.7 m) long boat, so it would withstand the seas during the 800 mile (1480 km) trip. He caulked it using a mixture of seal blood and flour, and, using wood and nails taken from packing cases and the runners of the sledges, he built a makeshift frame which was then covered with canvas. Shackleton was worried the boat "bore a strong likeness to stage scenery", only giving the appearance of sturdiness. He later admitted that the crew could not have lived through the voyage without it.When launching the boat McNish and John Vincent were thrown from the deck into the sea. Although soaked, both were unharmed, and managed to exchange some clothes with the Elephant Island party before the "James Caird" set off. The mood on board was buoyant and McNish recorded in his diary on 24 April 1916:

The mood did not last though: conditions aboard the small craft during the trip were terrible, with the crew constantly soaked and cold. McNish impressed Shackleton with his ability to bear up under the strain (more so than the younger Vincent, who collapsed from exhaustion and cold). The six men spilt into two watches of four hours: three of the men would handle the boat while the other three lay beneath the canvas decking attempting to sleep. McNish shared a watch with Shackleton and Crean. All the men complained of pains in their legs and, on the fourth day out from Elephant Island, McNish suddenly sat down and removed his boots, revealing his legs and feet were white and puffy with the early signs of trench foot. On seeing the state of McNish's feet Shackleton ordered all the men to remove their boots.

outh Georgia

The crew of the "James Caird" reached South Georgia on 10 May 1916, 15 days after setting out from Elephant Island.cite web|url=http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/shackleton/1914/timeline.html|title=Shackletons' Voyage of Endurance: Timeline|publisher=PBS|date=2002-03|accessdate=17 November|accessyear=2006] They landed in Cave Cove on King Haakon Bay; it was on the wrong side of the island, but it was a relief for all of them to make land; McNish wrote in his diary:They found albatross chicks and seals to eat, but despite the relative comfort of the island compared to the small boat, they still urgently needed to reach the whaling station at Husvik on the other side of the island to fetch help for the men on Elephant Island. It was clear that McNish and Vincent could not continue, so Shackleton left them in the care of McCarthy camped in the upturned "James Caird", and with Worsley and Crean made the hazardous trip over the mountains. McNish took screws from the "James Caird" and attached them to the boots of the men making the journey to help them grip the ice. He also fashioned a crude sledge from driftwood he found on the beach, but it proved too clumsy to be practical. When Shackleton's party set off on 18 May 1916, McNish accompanied them for a few hundred yards but he was unable to go any further. He shook hands with each of the men, wished them good luck and then Shackleton sent him back. Putting McNish in command of the remaining men, Shackleton charged him to wait for relief and if none had come by the end of winter to attempt to sail to the east coast. Once Shackleton's party had crossed the mountains and arrived in Husvik, he sent Worsley with one of the whaler's ships, "Samson", to pick up McNish and the other men. After seeing the emaciated and drawn McNish on his arrival at the whaling station, Shackleton recorded that he felt that the rescue had come just in time for him.

Polar medal

Whatever the true story of the rebellion on the ice, neither Worsley nor McNish ever mentioned the incident in writing. Shackleton omitted it entirely from "South", his account of the expedition, and referred to it only tangentially in his diary: "Everyone working well except the carpenter. I shall never forget him in this time of strain and stress". The event was recorded in the ship's log, but the log entry was struck during the sea voyage in the "James Caird", Shackleton being impressed by the carpenter's show of "grit and spirit". Nevertheless, McNish's name appeared on the list of the four men not recommended for the Polar Medal in the letter sent by Shackleton on his return. Macklin thought the denial of the medal unjustified:Macklin believed that Shackleton may have been influenced in his decision by Worsley who shared a mutual enmity with McNish, and had accompanied Shackleton back from Antarctica. Members of the Scott Polar Research Institute, New Zealand Antarctic Society and Caroline Alexander, the author of "Endurance", have criticised Shackleton's denial of the award to McNish, and there is an ongoing campaign to have him awarded the medal posthumously.cite web|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2090-1983370,00.html|title=Forgotten Scot of the Antarctic|author=Jim McBeth|publisher=Sunday Times - Scotland|date=2006-01-15|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006]

Later life, memorials and records

After the expedition McNish returned to the Merchant Navy, working on various ships. He often complained that his bones permanently ached due to the conditions during the journey in the "James Caird"; he would reportedly sometimes refuse to shake hands because of the pain. He divorced Lizzie Littlejohn on 2 March 1918, by which time he had already met his new partner, Agnes Martindale. McNish had a son named Tom and Martindale had a daughter named Nancy. Although she is mentioned frequently in his diary, it appears McNish was not Nancy's father. He spent 23 years in the Navy in total during his life, but eventually secured a job with the New Zealand Shipping Company. After making five trips to New Zealand he moved there in 1925, leaving behind his wifeRef_label|D|d|none and all of his carpentry tools. He worked on the waterfront in Wellington until his career was ended by an injury. Destitute, he would sleep in the wharf sheds under a tarpaulin and relied on monthly collections from the dockworkers. He was found a place in the Ohiro Benevolent Home, but his health continued to deteriorate and he died on 24 September 1930 in Wellington Hospital. He was buried in Karori Cemetery, Wellington, on 26 September 1930, with full naval honours; "HMS Dunedin" (which happened to be in port at the time) provided twelve men for the firing party and eight bearers. [cite web|publisher=The Dunedin Society|date=2006-11-03|url=http://www.hmsdunedin.co.uk/new_zealand.htm|title=New Zealand|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006] However, his grave remained unmarked for almost thirty years; the New Zealand Antarctic Society (NZAC) erected a headstone on 10 May 1959. In 2001, it was reported that the grave was untended and surrounded by weeds, [cite news|author=Ryan, Jenny|date=2001-01-12|work=Dominion Post|title=Final resting place lies in a sad state|page=14] but in 2004, the grave was tidied and a life size bronze sculpture of McNish’s beloved cat, Mrs. Chippy, was placed on his grave by NZAC. His grandson, Tom, believes this tribute would have meant more to him than receiving the Polar Medal.

In 1958 the British Antarctic Survey named a small island in his honour, "McNeish Island", which lies in the approaches to King Haakon Bay, South Georgia.cite web|url=http://aadc-maps.aad.gov.au/aadc/gaz/place_names_within_map.cfm?north=-53.8333333333&south=-55&east=-35.6666666667&west=-38.3333333333
title=Antarctic Gazetteer|publisher=Australian Antarctic Data Centre|accessdate=9 November|accessyear=2006
] The island was renamed "McNish Island" in 1998 after his birth certificate was presented to the United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee. On 18 October 2006, a small, oval wall plaque commemorating his achievements was unveiled at the Port Glasgow Library in his home town, and earlier in the same year he was the subject of an exhibition at the McLean Museum and Art Gallery, Greenock. His journals are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington, New Zealand.


a. Note_label|A|a|noneFor the location of McNish's birth, see [http://www.multimap.com/map/browse.cgi?client=public&search_result=&db=pc&cidr_client=none&lang=&keepicon=true&pc=PA145EQ&advanced=&client=public&addr2=&quicksearch=pa14+5eq&addr3=&addr1= map] .

b. Note_label|B|b|noneThere was little doubt as to his skill as a shipwright even before he was called upon for the modifications to the boats. He was never seen to take measurements, producing perfect work by eye. Macklin commented that all the work he did was first class, and even Thomas Orde-Lees, who disliked him, grudgingly admitted he was an "expert wooden ship's man".

c. Note_label|C|c|none"Mrs" Chippy was discovered to be a male a month after the voyage started, but by that time the name had stuck.

d. Note_label|D|d|none"Wife" in this source probably refers to Agnes Martindale, who was his partner but not his wife. McNish was already divorced by this time.


Further reading

*cite book|title=Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound Cat|author=Caroline Alexander|publisher=Harper Paperbacks|year=1999|pages=176|id=ISBN 0060932619 - an account of the expedition from the point of view of McNish's cat, Mrs Chippy. Many of the accounts of events are drawn from primary sources.
*cite web|publisher=Scottish Heritage|url=http://home.bendbroadband.com/scottishheritage/shackleton.html|title=Ernest Shackleton|accessdate=8 November|accessyear=2006 - an account of McNish's story told by "Mrs McNeish" (probably Agnes Martindale).
* [http://karorihistory.org.nz/stockade39_HarryMcNeish.htm An article by John Thomson] .

NAME= McNish, Harry
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Harry McNeish; Harry Macnish; Henry McNeish; Henry McNish; Chippy
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Port Glasgow, Scotland carpenter
PLACE OF BIRTH=Port Glasgow, Scotland
DATE OF DEATH= 24 September 1930
PLACE OF DEATH=Wellington, New Zealand

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