Sunday, 24 October 2010

'Shackleton Shot my Cat!'

Today's post looks at a touching story of devotion and survival - a man and his cat "Mrs Chippy."

Shackleton's ship 'Endurance' trapped in ice.

In 1914 adventurer and explorer, Earnest Shackleton assembled a crew of like minded men to voygage to the Antartic in the Endurance. Master shipwright, the carpenter Henry McNeish, smuggled a cat aboard in his tool box. Much to the crews amusement this cat followed the carpenter around like 'a suspicious wife checking up on her husband' and despite actually being a tom cat, earnt the name "Mrs Chippy."
Mrs Chippy (acutally a tom cat!) on the shoulder of a crew member.

Aboard ship Mrs Chippy had many adventures of his own. The diary of Thomas Orde-Lees recounts the night of 13th September 1914 when Mrs Chippy fell overboard out of a porthole. Luckily the Officer of the Watch heard the spalsh and was able to turn the Endurance around, and despite spending 10 minutes in freezing water the cat was rescued, fit and well.
Mrs Chippy was not above tormenting the 60 Canadian Husky sled dogs, kenneled on the upper decks - either by sitting for a wash just out of reach, or by sharpening his claws on their kennels. The Bo-sun was so enraged by this activity that he threatened to toss the cat overboard - and was demoted for his efforts!
Endurance - trapped in ice for 6 months then abandoned.
But then disaster struck the expedition. In January 1915 the Endurance became trapped in Antarctic ice sheets. Worse still, Mrs Chippy disappeared for 5 whole days and many feared he had frozen to death - only to reemerge stretching and yawning as if he'd just woken from a good sleep!

'Mrs Chippy 's almost total disregard for the diabolical forces at work on the ship was more than remarkable - it was inspirational.' [A crew member]

Whilst the Endurance's crew eeked out their rations by eating penguin and seal meat, Mrs Chippy refused to compromise and insisted on his preferred diet of tinned sardines. In the 6 months the crew was stranded, Mrs Chippy was the only one to gain weight!
But after 6 months the huge crushing force of the ice took its toil on Endurance and there was no option but for the men to abandon their ship and make a heroic hike across ice sheets to find help. In this desperate survival situation Shackleton has little choice but to insist only items essential to survival were taken - and this did not include Mrs Chippy. After a final meal of sardines Mrs Chippy curled up for a sleep ...and never woke up. Shackleton ordered the cat shot.
Despite the amazing feet of all crew members reaching safety under Shackleton's leadership, a decade later Henry Mc Neish was still bitter about the loss of his cat. When interviewed about his ordeal, all he would comment was, 'Shackleton shot my cat.'
A bronze statue of Mrs Chippy resting on his master's grave.
Happily in 2004, the New Zealand Antarctic Society rectified their separation and commissioned a statue of Mrs Chippy to rest on Henry Nc Neish's grave.-

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I am very impressed/amazed at the bronze statue on his grave!


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