By Frank Werner
Travelling animals have a long history. It is probable that our early ancestors, nomadic people, were accompanied by dogs, who helped them hunt, watched the camps and kept them company. They considered themselves as parts of a pack, where everyone had his place or duty. Cats arrived on the scene rather later, and, by their very nature, thought of themselves not as helpers of humans, but as co-inhabitants. They kept rodents down, slept by the fire and allowed humans to worship them. Things have not changed much since then. On the right you can see Marmalade, our 21st century tomcat who, rightly so, expected to be worshipped as much as his Egyptian ancestors.
As it became necessary for man to travel, he used animals as a means of transport, or dinner on the hoof. These are not the animals I want to write about. I would like to introduce a few animals, pars pro toto, which accompanied travellers as companions, pets, or useful friends. Cats and dogs have always been carried on board ships, as mascots or to keep the rats out of the victuals. Egyptian barges carried dogs, which were used for hunting along the banks, as well as cats. The Greeks took dogs on their voyages, again as hunting allies but also as companions. The Vikings were known to bring back the huge wolfhounds from Ireland. If cats were aboard, one rarely hears of them, but they are well known to do exactly what they wanted, and if a cat wanted a cruise in a longboat, it probably took it.
An early ships dog was found when the Tudor carrack Mary Rose was raised in 1982. The almost complete skeleton of a small dog was recovered near the doorway of the carpenter’s cabin. This had a sliding door; perhaps she was trapped there as the Mary Rose heeled over and sank. The animal was a healthy, young bitch, between eighteen months and two years old. She may have been on the ship as a mascot or a pet, perhaps the carpenter’s dog. She certainly would have helped get rid of the rats. She was called “Hatch” by the archaeologists and is probably the oldest lost sea dog discovered so far. She was displayed at Cruft’s Dog Show and found a permanent home in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth.
The goat on Cook’s boat
An animal that fared rather better at sea was the goat that accompanied first Samuel Wallis and then James Cook. Lieutenant Cook (1728-1779) was dedicated to the health of his crews, and was determined that they should enjoy the benefits of fresh milk on his first voyage. To this end, he took a goat aboard HMS Endeavour for his voyage to observe the transit of Venus from Tahiti, and the circumnavigation of the globe which this expedition entailed. This goat was already an experienced sailor. After serving on land in the Wet Indies for three years, she accompanied Captain Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) on his circumnavigation in 1766. On her return to England with Cook in 1771, she was pensioned off by the Admirality, and enjoyed “good English pasture” for the (sadly) short remainder of her life. Dr. Samuel Johnson, who was a friend of Cook’s botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, penned a couplet about her, which was engraved on a collar and put around her neck. It read: Perpetua ambita bis terra praemia lactis / haec habet altrici capra secunda Jovis. This was expanded and translated by Boswell as:
In fame scare second to the nurse of Jove,
This goat, who twice the world has traversed round,
Deserving both her master’s care and love,
Ease and perpetual pasture now has found.
I don’t know whether the goat is mentioned, but the best description of Cook’s first voyage is to be found in: John Hawkesworth’s “An Account of the Voyages Undertaken by the order of His Present Majesty for Making Discoveries in the Southern Hemisphere, and successively performed by Commodore Byron, Captain Wallis, Captain Carteret, And Captain Cook, In the Dolphin, the Swallow, and the Endeavour: Drawn up From the Journals which were kept by the several Commanders, And from the Papers of Joseph Banks” (3 volumes. London, for Strahan & Cadell, 1778).
Another animal associated with Australia is the famous tomcat Trim. He accompanied Matthew Flinders on his voyages to circumnavigate and map the coastline of Australia from 1801 to 1803. Trim was born in 1799, aboard HMS Reliance, on which his mother shipped, on a voyage from the Cape of Good Hope to Botany Bay. The kitten fell overboard, but swam back to the vessel, was thrown a rope and “took hold of it like a man and swarmed up it like a cat”. Flinders and his crew took a strong liking to the intelligent and obviously lovable animal. He was soon able to mount the gangway steps quicker than any member of the ship's crew. “He grew up to be one of the finest animals I ever saw”, observed his master; “his tail was long, large and bushy . . . his head was small and round - his physiognomy bespoke intelligence and confidence - his whiskers were long and graceful and his ears were cropped in a beautiful curve.” Trim normally weighed between 10 and 12 pounds. He was rather vain, and knowing himself to be equal to any officer aboard, always ate at the wardroom table, and preferred to sleep in an officer’s hat. Trim accompanied Flinders on HMS Investigator on his voyage around the Australian mainland, and survived the shipwreck of the Porpoise on Wreck Reef in 1803. The crew and cat were rescued by HMS Cumberland. This ship put into Mauritius for repairs, unaware that France and England were at war. Flinders was accused of spying and carrying forbidden papers and was imprisoned, taking the faithful feline with him. Alas, poor Trim disappeared after a short time, Flinders attributed this to his being stolen and eaten by hungry slaves. In 1996 a bronze statue of Trim by sculptor John Cornwell was erected on a window ledge of the Mitchell Library in Sydney, directly behind a statue of his master. The plaque under it says:
To the memory of Trim. The best and most illustrious of his race, the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures. He made the tour of the globe, and a voyage to Australia, which e circumnavigated, and was ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers. Written by Matthew Flinders in memory of his cat.
Trim is mentioned quite often in Matthew Flinders’ “Voyage to Terra Australis; undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803 .... With an account of the shipwreck of the Porpoise, arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and imprisonment of the commander during six years and a half in that country” (2 volumes and an atlas. London, Nicol, 1814).
As a postscript, and to illustrate how highly sailors thought of their pets, especially cats, I would like to add this excerpt from Hakluyt to Trim’s story:
“It chanced by fortune that the shippes cat leapt into the sea, which being downe, kept her selfe very valiantly above water, notwithstanding the great waves, still swimming, the which the Master knowing, he caused the skiffe with half a dozen men to goe towards her and fetch her again, when she was almost halfe a mile from the shippe, and all this while the shippe lay on staies. I hardly believe they would have made such haste and meanes if one of our company had been in like peril.”
The annals of polar exploration are filled with tales of canine heroes who earned their fame by blazing trails and tracking through the wilderness. Most of them lived short, hard lives, as often as not dying of exhaustion or ending up as food for their masters. It is pleasant to think that there were exceptions. One of the most beloved polar characters on four paws was (and is) a fierce little black-and-white Fox Terrier named Titina who gained her glory by sitting on her master’s lap. Titina was the lifelong companion of one of the tragic figures of Arctic exploration, the Italian inventor and airship pilot, Umberto Nobile. She found him as he was walking the streets of Rome, preparing for his first trans-polar flight with Amundsen. As Nobile petted her, a boy passing by whistled the popular tune “La Titina”, and so she became his Titina and from then on they were inseparable. Nobile and Amundsen (and of course Titina) crossed the North Pole in the airship Norge, and interest in the little dog grew. People wanted to know more about her, so it was reported, among other details:
“Over the Pole she wore clothes - a red woollen jersey - and during the greatest part of the flight she slept, covered by Colonel Nobile’s sleeping bag …”.
Her second foray into the frozen north did not end so well: The Italia, an all-Italian airship, crashed onto the ice, and many crew members, among them Titina and Nobile, were flung out, together with several packing cases of provisions and equipment. The lightened ship swiftly rose, with part of the crew still in it and was never seen again. Titina was unhurt, but Nobile suffered several fractions and contusions. A tent was built, into which the leader and his dog were moved, and radio communications were set up. A unprecedented rescue operation was set into motion to find the men. Meanwhile, at the camp, Titina kept watch over her beloved master, and at one point scared away an inquisitive polar bear by shrill yapping and barking. When, after 48 days, the camp was found, Nobile, of course accompanied by faithful little Titina, were flown out first. In the wake of the catastrophe, Nobile’s reputation and character were shattered. He was charged with abandoning his men by letting himself be rescued first. Disgraced and disowned by his country, he resigned his commission and left Italy. During all these trials and tribulations, Titina stood firmly by his side. She eventually died of natural causes. The thankful Nobile, who was acquitted in 1945, had her stuffed and mounted. A fitting end for a loyal friend in adversity!
Titina is an important character in both: Nobile’s “In volo alla conquista del segreto polare” (Da Roma a Teller attraverso il Polo Nord, Milano, A. Mondadori, 1928) and Nobile’s ”Italia al Polo Nord” (Milano, Mondadori, 1930).
Wherever men go, cats will be around, or rather underfoot. And so it comes as no surprise that a cat accompanied Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to South Georgia Island in 1914. Shackleton had recruited Henry McNeish as a carpenter and master shipwright for his third expedition to the Antarctic. The story goes that when McNeish joined the ship his cat followed him everywhere like a possessive wife and so the crew called it Mrs. Chippy, Chippy being the traditional nickname for a carpenter. By the time they found out that it was actually a hardy tomcat from Glasgow, the name had stuck. Shackleton was happy to have him, because he was an excellent rodent controller. Tiger-striped with dark markings, a broad face and handsome whiskers, he was an even-tempered, pleasant and affectionate ship-mate. He was well liked by the crew, and, when after setting sail from Buenos Aires a young stow-away named Perce Blackborow was found aboard, Mrs. Chippy adopted him. There is a famous photograph of the two of them, made by Frank Hurley, with the cat sitting confidently on the lad’s shoulder.
On the voyage out, Mrs. Chippy used up at least one of her seven lives. In the words of the supply officer Orde-Lee’s diary: “13. September 1914. An extraordinary thing happened during the night. The tabby cat - Mrs. Chippy - jumped overboard through one of the cabin portholes and the officer of the wath, Lt. Hudson, heard her screams and turned the ship smartly round & picked her up. She must have been in the water 10 minutes and more.”
As we know, the expedition ended badly: The Endurance was crushed by ice in 1915. The crew had to abandon ship and were ordered to take only the bare essentials with them. The dogs, and Mrs. Chippy, were to be put down. Everyone was heartbroken at the loss of a good comrade. His friend, Perce, gave him a tin of sardines laced with something toxic to eat, and he rolled up in his masters lap, went to sleep and never woke up again.
The rest of the story is well known, the retreat to Elephant Island, the heroic voyage to get help in the James Caird, and the eventual rescue of the crew. However, what is less well known is that McNeish turned sullen and mutinous, never forgiving Shackleton for killing his cat. He died a pauper in Wellington, New Zealand. In 1959 the New Zealand Antarctic Society raised funds for a headstone to stand on his unmarked grave, and recently the same society decided to unite the carpenter with his companion. A life-size bronze statue was cast of Mrs. Chippy, captured in watchful repose, and placed upon the carpenter’s grave. So at least in death are the two friends reunited!
Read the stirring tale of this heroic expedition in E. H. Shackleton’s “South: The Story of Shackleton’s Last Expedition, 1914-1917” (London, Heinemann, 1919).
And finally, space. The first animals sent into space were fruit flies, aboard a U.S.-launched V2 rocket on February 20, 1947. The purpose of the experiment was to explore the effects of radiation at high altitudes. The rocket reached 109 kilometres in 3 minutes and 10 seconds, past the international 100 kilometre definition of the edge of space. The Blossom capsule was ejected and successfully deployed its parachute. The fruit flies were recovered alive. I hope they were set free to hover over an over-ripe banana for the short remainder of their days, but seeing the sombre fate of other space-faring animals, I have my doubts.