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Ships Cats

I think that some people think it's strange to have cats on a yacht, but all through modern-ish history cats have charmed their way onboard ships to travel the world keeping crews and their captains amused.

Neither of my cats carry the kind of 'sailing stripes' that some of these cats earned back in the day on real sailing ships - My girls only have about 4k nautical miles under their belts, but some of these cats would do that in a single trip...or on just one leg of a trip!

In the earliest days, cats were brought along to control the vermin that would eat their cargo or damage the ship, and for the most part, they were known only as 'ship's cats', but literally, every ship had at least one cat - most didn't have names, some were feral, but nonetheless they made their contributions and performed their duties regardless of the weather.

There are stories of ships cats catching rats, disturbed as the ship was repelling pirates or otherwise engaged in battle, the cats oblivious to the fighting - just focusing on the job of catching the rats.

There was a story I tried to find of a cat who served on an American military vessel in China during the war, this cat was hailed a hero by the crew after defeating a 'warrior rat' that had bested the cats before him - but I couldn't find it - I may have to make a 'part two' if I ever locate the story - it's an incredible read.

Even in the earliest days of film, and in the last days of great sailing ships - cats were right there with the toughest men that the sea had allowed to live - and all that remains are grainy photos and fleeting references to these feline sailors who were as tough as the men they sailed with.

And they were mostly men, there weren't too many women (allowed) on board in those days - t'was unlucky... Cats were fine - Women, not so much - go figure.

Even in the earliest days of film, and in the last days of the great sailing ships, cats were there - and people were taking their pictures, they always stole the show. Here's some old kitty footage from the late 1920's...

I don't think it's strange having cats on a boat at all, I almost can't imagine sailing/living on a boat without at least one onboard - even though there are no rats or cargo to worry about these days - and even if not to uphold the tradition, if nothing else - they sure keep things interesting.

If I had a bigger yacht with more space, I'd probably have more - you can never have enough furry friends!

Below are a few notable cats, I put Trim at the top as the tribute written (link below) by his owner is quite touching, and speaks to something else that cats bring to life aboard, other than just their propensity to catch rats...


Trim (1799-1804)

This fella was born at sea onboard HMS Reliance and actually fell overboard but was able to climb back on board after grabbing a rope 'like a man' and saving himself. I think they even turned the ship around to pick him up!

Trim sailed with Matthew Flinders, a cartographer, and circumnavigated Australia, survived a shipwreck, and kept him company until his mysterious disappearance in 1804 after Flinders had been imprisoned after being accused of spying by the French.

Flinders offered a handsome reward to anyone who could tell him what happened to his cat, but he never found out. Flinders also, while still imprisoned, wrote an autobiography for Trim.

You can read the autobiography for Trim here : Tribute to Trim

It's a charming wee read, I highly recommend it. It should be noted that no one really knows what happened to Trim, and although Flinders jumps to some rather graphic is not fully known what happen to that charming fella.


Mrs. Chippy (1914ish-1915)

Mrs Chippy, a name given to a tabby kitten who followed the carpenter, aka Chippy, around like an overly attentive wife. And even though the kitten would turn out to be male, they kept the name.

Mrs Chippy with a crew member (not the carpenter)

This cat, over his short life, became a very capable seaman and impressed all who saw him. His ability to keep his balance in even the roughest conditions earned him respect from the crew.

But despite his best efforts, and through no fault of his own - the ship he was on, The Endurance, got crushed in the ice, he and a few other animals were not to survive the expedition due to a decision made by the Captain(Shackleton).

The carpenter, Harry McNish, is said to have never forgiven the Captain. (I don't blame him.)

Many years later, a statue of Mrs chippy was added to the carpenter's grave.


Unsinkable Sam (1940?-1955)

Sam was a cat that, allegedly, survived the sinking of 3 ships. Well, so the legend says...

The first was the German battleship 'Bismark' that was sunk after a fierce battle and Sam was located in the debris and pulled from the water by the crew of a British Destroyer.

He was installed on two other vessels - HMS Cossack and the HMS Ark Royal. After they were both sunk, he was again reused (twice) but was without a ship and was sent to stay in the offices of the Gibraltar Governor, but was eventually sent back to the UK.

Sometime before the end of the war, Sam was retired to Belfast, and lived out his final years in the "Home for Sailors" - he eventually passed away in 1955, and earned his place in history/legend after a life well lived!


Convoy (circa 1942)

Convoy was a cat that served aboard HMS Hermione. It's said that 'he' was a 'he', but from the photo, the cat looks to be a calico, and I think they're almost always female...but who am I to rewrite history...the accounts say 'he', so we'll stick with it.

Convoy was not just a cat, but a fully listed member of the crew, and was looked after accordingly. If you look at the photo below, you can see how revered he was by the crew.

The crew made him a hammock that he slept in, just look at how comfy he looks! And note the smiles on all their faces!

Sadly, he perished along with his 87 fellow crew members when his ship was torpedoed by a German u-boat in 1942.


Fred Wunpound (1964?-1976)

Fred, acquired from an animal shelter for the sum of £1 - became Able Seacat Fred Wunpound - is another legend of the sea, serving upon HMS Hecate as 'chief mouser' from 1966-1975

He was soo good at his job that during his service the crew claimed to have never seen a mouse.

Covering enough miles annually to go around the globe, he served for nine years and, at that time, earned himself the unofficial title of 'most travelled cat'.

In the picture above, you can see him wearing his two 'good conduct' badges, but he did also earn a 'disgraceful conduct' badge in an event described only as the 'fish market incident' in Brixham - and given the military aspect, I'm sure all details are classified...

Fred Wunpound was forced into early retirement due to some rabies laws that were introduced in 1975 - It was these laws that kinda ended the tradition of 'ships cats'.

Able Seacat Fred spent his remaining time ashore in Taunton, where he passed away in his sleep in 1976.


Jenny (? - 1912?)

She was the ship's cat on board the Titanic, her age is unknown.

There are two versions of this story, one is that she and her kittens went down with the ship - this seems to be the more popular account, however...

Her unofficial caretaker on the Titanic claimed to have seen her carefully removing her kittens to the shore soon after arriving in Southampton. In fact, it was her jumping ship that caused he himself not to take the trip as he saw it as an omen, and he credited her for saving his life. (the photo above is not Jenny)

There was allegedly a newspaper article about it, but I could find no trace of it.

There don't seem to be any other reports of her, and I guess we'll never know for sure, but I'd like to think she was wise enough to save herself and her kittens...cats seem to have some foresight with these sorts of things - that why they're good luck - might be some truth to it after all!


Nini (1680?)

It is written that the one true love of Admiral Francesco Morosini was his cat, Nini.

I couldn't find a solid reference to 'Nini' being the actual cat's name, there seems to have been some debate, but the museum refers to her as Nini, so perhaps the debate was settled.

Admiral Francesco Morosini, or the Doge of Venice, took her everywhere, and was never far from his side - he even took her into battle! Not sure how thrilled Nini was about that, but that's what the accounts say...

It just goes to show you, even the toughest, battle-hardened men can have their hearts stolen by an itty bitty little kitty.


Chibley (1996?-2011)

Last but not least, is Chibley, a real sailing cat from one of the last real sailing ships that are actually still sailing the seas to this day...

image source : twitter

For 14-15yrs she served onboard the tall ship - Picton Castle, and sailed more than 250,000 nautical miles, circling the globe at least 5 times and going to more far-flung places than you could ever list.

She was, as usual - in charge of pest control - but from what I've read, her main occupation was charming the crew - aside from that, she lived on her own terms, having her own adventures and leaving a mark on all who sailed with her...

You can read more about her on their site : The Story of Chibley


Sadly, that's the end of this list, but I'm going to find some of the more elusive stories for a part-two...


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