Joseph Russell Stenhouse was born on 15 November 1887 in Dumbarton, Scotland. In 1903, he joined the Merchant Navy and was one of the last men to gain a Master's certificate in square-rigged sailing ships. In August 1914, he was appointed sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve and later the same month joined the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917 (leader Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton). Initially, he was appointed chief officer of Aurora, under Æneas Lionel Acton Mackintosh, but when the ship reached a possible landing place near Hut Point in January 1915, Mackintosh went ashore with the Ross Sea party and Stenhouse took overall command. Stenhouse commanded Aurora through the long period of drifting in the ice, returning eventually to New Zealand in 1916.
During the First World War, he served in Q (mystery) ships, and was awarded the DSO for anti-submarine actions. Later in the war, he served with Sir Ernest Shackleton in northern Russia, advising on polar equipment and transport and was decorated for the second time. After the war, he returned to the Antarctic with the Discovery Committee with the responsibility of fitting out RRS Discovery. He commanded the ship between 1925 and 1927 while she was engaged on whaling and oceanographic research, and was in command during the voyage to Wiencke Island in 1927. Between 1931 and 1932, he worked with an international travel service that tried unsuccessfully to promote ship-borne travel and tourism, in particular to historic sites in Antarctica. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he rejoined the Navy, as senior officer afloat of the Thames and Medway Examination Service. His ship struck a mine and sank in October 1940. Although injured, he risked his life to save one of the men. After three months treatment he saw action in northern waters and the Gulf of Aden where, during operations from the shore base, he was posted missing, presumed drowned, on 12 September 1941.