Cats in 20th Century History (Mrs. Chippy)

The stowaway Blackborow and Mrs. Chippy, cats in history, famous cats

The stowaway Blackborow and Mrs. Chippy

As WWI was just beginning, an adventurous cat, Mrs. Chippy, accompanied Sir Ernest Shackleton‘s Antarctic voyage of 1914/15.  Mrs. Chippy, a grey tabby tomcat, acquired his name because he constantly followed around the ship’s carpenter and master shipwright Henry (Harry) McNeish.  “Chippy” is a British nickname for a carpenter, and even though the cat was male, he was called Mrs. because of his attachment to McNeish.  Even so, the only photograph of Mrs. Chippy is one with him perched on the shoulder of the stowaway Blackborow who also took a liking to the cat.  The ill-fated expedition ended when the Endurance became trapped in ice and was eventually crushed.  It was Shackelton’s decision to shoot all the dogs and the lone cat Mrs. Chippy on October 29th, 1915 before they started out on their 350 mile trek over the ice to the nearest land in order to bring back help for the remaining men.  Shackelton recorded in his diary, “This afternoon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot. We could not undertake the maintenance of weaklings under the new conditions.” (Shackleton, 1919). Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter were particularly upset.  The ship’s crew doted over Mrs. Chippy in his last hours giving him hugs and feeding him his favorite food, sardines, perhaps laced with a sleeping drug.  McNeish never forgave Shackelton for killing his cat, and the two were on such bad terms that Shackelton refused to recommend him for the Polar Medal that the rest of the crew received. In 1925, McNeish went to live in Wellington where he died in destitution in 1930. Even though buried with full military honors in Karori cemetery, he was interred in an unmarked grave until 1959 when a headstone was finally erected.  In 2004, a life sized bronze replica of Mrs. Chippy was created and now sits atop of McNeish’s grave in honor of his never ending love of his cat.

Henry McNeish's Grave with a statue of Mrs. Chippy on top, famous cats, famous cat lovers, Endurance, Ernest Shackelton

Henry McNeish’s Grave with a statue of Mrs. Chippy on top

McNeish’s grandson, Tom McNeish, 76, from Norwich, said: “If it wasn’t for him (McNeish) they would all have perished. His skills got them to safety. But all you hear about the expedition is Shackleton. I think he would be over the moon about the statue. The cat was more important to him than the Polar Medal.”(Daily Telegraph, 2004) In 1998, an Island near South Georgia was named after McNeish, and in February 2011, Mrs Chippy was featured on a postage stamp issued by South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Mrs. Chippy, cats on stamps, famous cats, cat history  

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