Cat History: Famous Ship Cats

mrschippy
Mrs. Chippy with Perce Blackburow, Frank Hurley, Wikipedia

Ships have traditionally carried cats to protect food stores from rodents, and a few of these cats made their way into the history books.

Trim – Who Sailed Around the World with Captain Matthew Flinders

Trim was a black cat with a white star on his chest and white socks. Energetic and a bit of a risk taker, he fell overboard from time to time, but didn’t seem bothered by it. Whenever he landed in the ocean, someone would throw him a rope and he’d scamper back up.

Trim ran about with the ship’s men and liked to sit in officers’ caps. At dinnertime he stole pieces of meat from forks with such brilliant dexterity that his victims were more inclined to admire his skill than be angered by the theft.

After war broke out between France and England, Flinders and his crew were mistaken for spies at the French Island of Mauritius and imprisoned. While the men languished in prison, a French lady adopted Trim, but he soon disappeared, and Flinders was heartbroken. Seven years later, Flinders was released and returned to his wife in England, but he never forgot Trim.

In 1996, the North Shore Historical Society commissioned a bronze statue of Trim for the window ledge at Mitchell Library in Sydney, Australia, and the library’s cafe has been named after Flinders’ beloved cat.

Harry McNeish's Grave with Statue of Mrs. Chippy
Harry McNeish’s Grave with Statue of Mrs. Chippy, Nigel Cross, Wikipedia

Mrs. Chippy – Who Accompanied Shackleton on the Endurance

Mrs. Chippy was a tomcat belonging to the Endurance’s carpenter, Henry McNeish. He was called Mrs. Chippy because he followed McNeish around like an over-possessive wife (chippy is a colloquialism for carpenter). Mrs. Chippy was an excellent rodent catcher and popular with the men.

During the voyage, the Endurance became trapped in ice. Realizing that they would die if they didn’t take their fate into their own hands, Shackleton decided they should set out for the nearest land mass on lifeboats, leaving the animals behind. The men bid Mrs. Chippy a loving farewell and found some sardines – his favourite – for a last supper. Shackleton then ordered the ship’s dogs and Mrs. Chippy shot, which provoked McNeish to rebel briefly against his leader. The men survived, largely due to the improvements McNeish made to the lifeboats, but Shackleton spitefully denied McNeish the Polar Medal that he should have received in retaliation for McNeish’s insubordination.

McNeish never forgave Shackleton nor got over the loss of his cat. In June 2004, the New Zealand Antarctic Society commissioned a bronze sculpture of Mrs. Chippy to adorn McNeish’s grave.

774px-Convoy_cat
Convoy Cat – Beadell, S J (Lt), Royal Navy Official Photographer, Wikipedia
“Convoy was the ship’s cat aboard HMS Hermione. He was so named because of the number of times he accompanied the ship on convoy escort duties. Convoy was duly listed in the ship’s book and provided with a full kit, including a tiny hammock where he would sleep. He stood by his ship to the end and was lost along with 87 of his crew mates, when the Hermione was torpedoed and sunk on 16 June 1942 by U-205” (Wikipedia, “Ship’s Cat”).

Oscar – Otherwise Known as Unsinkable Sam

Oscar acquired the nickname Unsinkable Sam after surviving the destruction of three warships:

    • The Bismarck – a German battleship sunk in 1941 with only 116 survivors out of a crew of more than 2,200
    • The HMS Cossack – a British destroyer torpedoed several months after rescuing Oscar from a floating board
    • The HMS Ark Royal – an Aircraft Carrier torpedoed a few days after plucking Oscar from the ocean

After the Ark Royal sunk and Oscar was again rescued, it was decided that while Oscar was certainly a lucky cat, he was unlucky for ships, and so Unsinkable Sam was redeployed as a rodent catcher for the Governor General of Gibraltar until a courageous ship’s crew eventually transported him to Ireland, where he lived out his life in a home for sailors.

Although there is a portrait of Unsinkable Sam in London’s National Maritime Museum, some scholars doubt the veracity of Oscar’s tale, and debate continues as to whether Unsinkable Sam’s strange luck is miraculous or an urban legend.

Tiddles_cat
Tiddles – Parnall, C H (Lt), Royal Navy Official Photographer, Wikipedia
“Tiddles was the ship’s cat on a number of Royal Navy aircraft carriers. He was born aboard HMS Argus, and later joined HMS Victorious. He was often seen at his favourite station, on the after capstan, where he would play with the bell-rope. He eventually travelled over 30,000 miles (48,000 km) during his time in service” (Wikipedia, “Ship’s Cat”).

Simon – Who Served Aboard the HMS Amethyst

Simon protected the British HMS Amethyst’s food stores from rats, often bringing his kills as gifts to his commanding officer. He slept in the captain’s hat and accompanied him on rounds of the ship.

In 1949, the Amethyst was sent to guard the British Embassy during Mainland China’s communist revolution. When the ship was attacked on the Yangtze River, many crewmen were killed (including the captain) and the Amethyst was badly damaged, running aground on a sand bar.

Simon was badly injured but survived the attack. He was taken to the sick bay for treatment, but not expected to live long. To everyone’s surprise, Simon recovered and again took up his duties guarding the food supplies, a critical service given that the ship was still trapped behind enemy lines and its crew in danger of starvation.

When not hunting, Simon spent his time cheering up the injured soldiers in the sick bay and charming the new captain, who had previously expressed an aversion to cats. When the new captain fell ill, Simon sat with him until he recovered.

After two hellish months, the Amethyst escaped one dark night and made its way home. Sadly, Simon died of an infection during the ship’s six-month quarantine in England. He was buried with full military honours and posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal for his gallantry.

For more cat articles, see the main Cats page.

Peebles_the_cat
Peebles – Ministry of Information Photo Division Photographer, Wikipedia
“Lieutenant Commander R H Palmer OBE, RNVR plays with Peebles, the ship’s cat, on board HMS Western Isles, Tobermory, Mull. According to the original caption, Peebles is very clever and shakes the hands of strangers when they enter the wardroom. Here he is ‘jumping through the hoop’ made by Lt Cdr Palmer’s arms.” (Wikipedia, “Ship’s Cat”).

References:

    • BBC News. (1 November 2007). “Wartime Hero Cat Simon Remembered.” News.BBC.co.uk.
    • Griggs, K. (21 June 2001). “Antarctic Hero ‘Reunited’ with Cat.” News.BBC.co.uk.
    • Roberts, P. (2010). “Mrs. Chippy, of the Endurance,” “Simon, of HMS Amethyst,” “Matthew Flinders Cat Trim,” and “Cats in Warfare.” Pur-n-Fur.org.uk.
    • Stall, S. (2007). 100 Cats Who Changed Civilization. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.
Churchill and Blackie
Churchill and Blackie – Horton (Capt), War Office Official Photographer, Wikipedia
“Atlantic Conference August 1941: Churchill restrains ‘Blackie’ the cat, the mascot of HMS Princes of Wales, from joining an American destroyer, while the ship’s company stand to attention during the playing of the National Anthem” (Wikipedia, “Ship’s Cat”).

One thought on “Cat History: Famous Ship Cats”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.