Famous Ship's Cats

"Even Jenny, the ship's cat and part of the crew, had immediately found herself a comfortable corner; she varied her usual Christmas routine on previous ships by presenting Titanic with a litter of kittens in April." - Voilet Jessop on joining the Titanic's crew.

Jenny and her kittens went down with the Titanic, along with all the other pets aboard ship, and 1500 passengers and crew. She's barely even mentioned in the accounts of the great ship. Other ship's cats, though, are more famous. They were awarded medals for bravery under fire, travelled great distances under adverse conditions and have had statues erected in their honour. More importantly, they were loved by their owners, and by the crew at large. They have achieved a small place in history.

This hub is dedicated to three of those cats, and to all the cats that travelled with ships around the world, making the voyage more comfortable with their companionship, and their service in keeping rodents to a minimum.

Statue of Trim located in front of the Mitchell Library in New South Wales, just behind the statue of his owner Matthew Flinders.
Statue of Trim located in front of the Mitchell Library in New South Wales, just behind the statue of his owner Matthew Flinders.

Trim - Circumnavigating Australia and Travelling the World

"...it seemed as if nature had designed him for the prince and model of his race" said Matthew Flinders in his tribute to his cat, Trim.

Trim was born at sea in 1797, aboard the HMS Reliance. He soon made his mark as an agile and curious kitten. More adventurous than his litter-mates he was seen in all parts of the ship, and soon had Matthew Flinders wrapped around his paw. Being born at sea, the water became his natural element, as was soon discovered, when he leaped and fell overboard. A rope was thrown to him, and he swam to it, grabbed hold of it, and climbed back up onto deck.

Flinders recounts him reclining on the deck in such a way, that officers would be obliged to stop and admire his snow white paws; he was a black cat, except for his paws, just under his chin, and a white star on his chest. Trim also liked to supervise the navigation of the ship, and when bearings were being taken he was there, watching and commenting with a mew to let the officers know whether or not he approved.

Trim travelled the world with Flinders and changed ships when he did. If he had a flaw it was that he was not as delicate as a land cat, and when he found himself on land he could not act in the appropriate manner. Anything between him and the object of his attention, most likely a mouse, was broken. He was a seafaring cat, at home on a ship and clumsy on land. Both Flinders and Trim were glad to be back aboard a ship after their brief stay on land in 1800 in England.

When Flinders circumnavigated Australia for the first time in 1801 aboard the Investigator, Trim was with him. Flinders made the voyage three times, and so did Trim, ruling gently over the captain and her crew. When the Investigator became unseaworthy, Flinders and his trusty companion boarded the Porpoise for their journey back to England. The Porpoise was wrecked on a coral reef in the Indian Ocean, Trim was among the survivors and remained with Flinders for two months while they awaited rescue.

The HMS Cumberland picked up the survivors. When the Cumberland put in for repairs in Mauritius they were captured as spies. While they had been sailing the seas, the Napoleonic Wars had resumed. Trim stayed with Flinders until they were moved to another location on the island, and Flinders accepted the offer from a local landowner to take care of him. Two weeks later Trim was missing, presumed dead.

Flinders wrote his famous essay about Trim in 1809. It was found among his papers in 1973, and published. One and a half centuries after his famous voyages, once again Trim had regained his place in history.

Mrs Chippy enjoying a ride on Endurance crew member Perce Blackborow's shoulder
Mrs Chippy enjoying a ride on Endurance crew member Perce Blackborow's shoulder

Mrs Chippy Goes to Antarctica

When the Endurance sailed from the East India Docks in 1914, she had aboard her about 30 crew and one big tabby cat. The cat was named, or mis-named, Mrs Chippy. The cat was brought aboard by Henry McNeish, the ship's carpenter. By the time the crew realised that Mrs Chippy should have been called Mr Chippy because he was a tomcat it was too late and the name stuck.

The Endurance was headed for Argentina first, and the Antarctica as the main ship in the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition under the command of Ernest Shakleton. They intended to cross Antarctica, and set a new record.

Mrs Chippy, like all crew members, had his role: to catch mice and rats in order to save the provisions onboard. He was an intelligent cat, although he tended to stick to his owner McNiesh, and was more inclined to do so, once the 70 Canadian Huskies came aboard in Argentina. He did gain a second friend during this stage of the voyage, though. A few days out of Argentina a stowaway was discovered onboard, Perce Blackborow, and after a dressing down he was asked to join the crew. He and Mrs Chippy became fast friends, and the only surviving picture of Mrs Chippy, taken by Frank Hurley, is of Mrs Chippy standing on his shoulder.

Mrs Chippy soon adjusted to life with the dogs onboard, especially once he discovered that they were confined and he was free to move about as he pleased. He took to walking across their cages, pausing to scratch the occasional wood just to get his point across.

When the expedition became trapped in the ice Mrs Chippy continued with his work, seemingly unaffected by the change in provisions. Although he did not like penguin meat and refused to eat it.

Slowly the Endurance , living up to her name after months of being stuck in the icepack began to break up. Eventually the expedition leader, Shakleton, realised they would have to abandon ship and walk across the ice to safety. They would not be able to take any excess. He ordered all the animals to be killed, including Mrs Chippy.

On 29 October 1915, Mrs Chippy was shot, along with some of the dogs. McNeish never forgave Shakleton for giving the order and became insubordinate, so much so, that he was the only member of the expedition not recommended for the Polar Medal. Years later he still lamented the loss of his loved cat. Today, a sculpture of Mrs Chippy reclines over McNeish's grave in New Zealand, as a mark of respect for the loved cat and his owner.

Simon, the HMS Amethyst's decorated cat.
Simon, the HMS Amethyst's decorated cat.

Simon of the HMS Amethyst - Bravery Under Fire

Able Seacat Simon, as he was to become known, was smuggled aboard the HMS Amethyst by Ordinary Seaman George Hickinbottom in 1948. The HMS Amethyst had called into Hong Kong for supplies and was docked at Stonecutter's Island, and Hickinbottom took a liking to him.

Thankfully, the captain, Lt Cdr Ian Griffiths, did as well once he was discovered and he was able to remain onboard. It didn't take long before the captain and the cat gained a rapport, with Simon presenting himself at the captain's whistle, and sleeping in his hat whilst in the cabin. Simon remained onboard catching mice and endearing himself to the crew even after Griffiths was replaced with Lt Cdr Skinner.

It seems as though Simon had a good run on the Amethyst, and Skinner gave Simon exactly the same privileges as Griffiths had done, including sleeping in his hat, although Simon would not come to his whistle.

On 20th April 1949 the Amethyst was ordered to travel up the Yangtze River and replace the HMS Consort, which was guarding the British Embassy from Communist insurgents. They came under fire from the communists who did not recognise the British treaty with the Nationalists. The shots missed, but an hour up river they came under heavy fire once more, and these shots did not miss. Captain Skinner was killed in his cabin, and Simon, asleep there as well was severely injured. He was found a few days later, hiding under some debris.

While Simon was hiding the ship was refloated and managed to make its way beyond the guns, but was hopelessly stuck in the river mud. By then there was only a minimum of crew onboard, those who could be moved were, including the injured. The Amethyst had taken such a battering from the shore batteries that only one lifeboat survived in order to move the injured. The worst injured remained onboard -- there was nowhere else to go. The British managed to fly in a medical officer and a new commander for the Amethyst, which remained stuck in position as all attempts at rescue were pushed back. By the time Simon was found and taken to the sickbay all those who could be treated had been.

Simon had burns to his face, and four separate shrapnel wounds. He was not expected to survive, but survive he did. After a few days rest he was up and about again, albeit slowly moving. He divided his time between catching rats and visiting the wounded who could not be moved. In their position on the Yangtze rats were easily able to get onboard the ship, and with provisions running low as the siege dragged on, they could not afford to lose any to onboard rodents. His attention to the wounded also gave them hope in what was a desperate situation for all concerned.

On July 30, 1949 the Amethyst made a desperate dash for freedom under the cover of darkness. Even though she did come under fire she managed to get free, 101 days after the initial barrage. Simon, for his efforts was awarded the rank of Able Seacat, and given the Amethyst Campaign Ribbon. His fame spread, and he was nominated for the Dickin Award. This is the equivalent of a VC for animals. He is the only cat to receive the award.

Simon's fame spread far and wide, and as he waited in quarantine for entry into Britain he received toys, and fanmail. He had his own carer because of all the attention. Unfortunately, while in quarantine, he caught a virus. His heart was already weakened by his service injuries and gave out. He died on 28th November 1949.

He was posthumously awarded the Dickens Medal. The crew of the Amethyst were devastated by the news; and his obituary appeared in Time Magazine. He was buried with full Navy honours, as a true hero and friend.

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Comments 21 comments

Chris Hugh 4 years ago

Cats rule!


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 4 years ago from Australia Author

I've never heard that Jenny survived. Violet Jessop did not mention the cat leaving the ship at Southampton, and says that the cat joined the ship there. From what I understand she was on the Olympic before that (I'm assuming this because that is where Violet was Stewardess before joining the Titanic). I suppose it is one of those things we'll never really know for sure.


hbhkb 4 years ago

3 of the dogs on the Titanic survived. It is also widely recorded that a man called Mulholland, one of the stokers who brought Titanic from Belfast to Southampton, told how when they arrived in Southampton he was weighing up whether to take extra work on the Titanic or join a tramp steamer for work that would last a lot longer. He claimed his mind was made up as he saw a cat (presumably Jenny) leave the ship with her kittens and decided it was an omen that all was not well with Titanic. So he left too.


RussellLHuey profile image

RussellLHuey 5 years ago

Greatly interesting topic I found.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 6 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks, Enelle! I'm glad you liked the article. :-)


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 6 years ago from Canada's 'California'

Great hub from beginning to end! A most interesting and captivating read :D

I have taken the liberty of adding a link to your hub on my blog (A Cat's Tail - the 'Purr'fect Blog) on blogspot.com. I thought that my readers (if I indeed have any lol) would be very interested in this! Thanks for a wonderful hub.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 7 years ago from Australia Author

Tippy and Blazey are the holders of grand tradition, indeed! I take my hat off to them. :-) Thanks for reading.


solitaire profile image

solitaire 7 years ago from Afloat

On behalf of Tippy the Boat Cat and her 21 year-old sidekick Blazey - both seasoned liveaboards on a 41' sailboat - thank you. Very interesting article.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

It's easy to overlook just how brave animals can be. There's a much more comprehensive look at Simon on the Purr and Fur page I linked to. He was a brave kitty and I think, even with everything that happened he had a good life, or so I like to think.


Hope Alexander profile image

Hope Alexander 8 years ago

Wow, great hub! Some truly amazing stories there too, poor little Simon... how brave animals can be...


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks, Sally. I'm glad that you and Ed appreciated it. I know how picky orange tabby cats can be. :-)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Wonderful accounts! My orange tabby Ed and I give you a thumbs and paws up for bringing these magnificent heroes to light.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks, Mr O'Connell. :-)


mroconnell profile image

mroconnell 8 years ago from France

Awesome topic.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

Angela, I'm owned by a cat, too. :-) A big orange tabby named Oscar. He doesn't approve of water, though, so he'd be terrible as a ship's cat. I love cats, they are just the best pets. :-)

Robie, thanks for the compliment! :-)


robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

Absolutely delightful homage to some brave sea-cats. Thanks


Angela Harris profile image

Angela Harris 8 years ago from Around the USA

This hub is wonderful. I have a cat that I adore, even if he only has one eye. He came with our house that we bought a few years back. I gave your hub a definite thumbs up.


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

Thanks for reading! :-)


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

I love cats, and this is a great hub! Thanks for these accounts :)


Hovalis profile image

Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia Author

I'm glad you liked it, Eileen. Would you believe cats have been travelling the world on ships since Egyptian times? Where we go our furry friends seem to follow. :-)


Eileen Hughes profile image

Eileen Hughes 8 years ago from Northam Western Australia

A very interesting topic. Something I would not have even thought about until I read your article. Thanks

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