Saturday, 14 April 2012


When the Titanic struck an iceberg on the north Atlantic exactly 100 years ago today, and sank two and a half hours later, she claimed the lives of almost 1500 of the 2,224 people on board. Usually left untold is the fact that the disaster also claimed the lives of 75 percent of the dogs sailing aboard the ship. Twelve are known to have sailed, and only three survived.

To be on the maiden voyage of “the largest moving object in the world” carried huge status so many very rich and famous people were on board.

But there has also been a lot of interest down the years about the animals who were on board for this fateful journey. There were certainly a number of dogs who were the companions of wealthy first class passengers. In fact it is claimed that on the Monday there had been due to be a dog show on board.

Like many stories surrounding the Titanic there are a number of myths, conflicting accounts and perhaps some exaggeration regarding the pets on the Titanic, but as far as can be certain it is believed that there were a number of pet dogs on board, a ship’s cat and possibly a canary.

It cost about half a normal fare to take a dog on board – as it would have done for a child, so it was chiefly only the First Class passengers who could afford to take their pets with them on the Titanic.

Most of the big dogs were housed in the ship’s kennels, while some of the small dogs were kept surreptitiously by first-class passengers in their staterooms. The survivors were among the latter and it is fairly certain that just threedogs survived the disaster:

• a Pekingese named Sun-Yat Sen owned by Henry Sleeper Harper who escaped in boat three;
• a 
Pomeranian called “Lady” owned by Miss Margaret Hays who escaped in boat seven
• a 
Pomeranian owned by Elizabeth Barrett Rothschild. They escaped together in boat six.
These three dogs survived because they were taken on deck by their owners at the first hint of trouble and because they were all small enough lapdogs to be easily carried by their owners. Others were not so fortunate.
As the ship was going down, someone thought (legends says the person was Colonel John Jacob Astor) to open the kennels to give the dogs a fighting chance. Most were last seen running on the rapidly tilting deck. The bodies of some were later recovered from the sea.
Colonel John Jacob Astor and his young wife Madeleine had an Airedale dog on board called Kitty. Colonel Astor and the dog died, but his heavily-pregnant wife and a maid travelling with them survived.
According to "1912 Facts About Titanic" by Lee W. Merideth: "As the boat was rowed away, the passengers could all see John Jacob Astor, the two Thayers, the two Widener men and Arthur Ryerson standing together in a group, waving at the boat, and all deep in their own thoughts. At some point, Colonel Astor went down to F deck aft to where the dog kennels were and let the dogs out. Madeleine Astor would later say that as the ship started to go under, she could see Colonel Astor's Airedale dog "Kitty" running around on the Boat deck."
 There are a number of stories about the dogs who were in kennels being released as the ship went down so they could take a chance at swimming to safety – whether it was Colonel Astor who freed them, before he was killed by a falling funnel on the sinking ship, we can’t be sure.

I’ll share a story that fascinates me, One of the biggest mystery. A Great DaneSaint Bernard or possibly a Newfoundland possibly travelling with a middle aged spinster called Ann Isham. One knowledgeable Titanic pet expert called Marty Crisp (who has written a number of books on the subject) believes that this lady refused to get in the lifeboat without her dog and their bodies may have been sighted a couple of days after the disaster floating together by passengers from a German liner the Bremen. More than one passenger and crew member from other ships passing through this haunted trail of tears, reported seeing a woman, frozen solid, her arms wrapped around a huge black dog.  Remarkable.  To this day when passing through the area where the ship sank, ocean travelers hear the baying and strong, deep throated barking of what seems to be a large dog.  Explorers that brave the deep Atlantic to study Titanic have sometimes reported what seems to be the black figure of a large dog gamboling on the deck as the submergible approaches the rotting hulk of Titanic’s bow.  Of course that would be impossible, but not for a spirit dog. Others say there is no evidence that Miss Isham had a dog with her.Many other historians also dispute that it was Isham with the dog, although history does record passengers of the German liner Breman telling reporters once they arrived in New York several days after the Titanic sank they had seen a “fully clothed body of a woman clinging tightly to that of a shaggy dog.”  

One story that is often recounted, but sadly is purely a myth, is that a Newfoundland dog called Rigel – allegedly the pet of First Officer William Murdoch – survived in the water and alerted rescuers to a lifeboat of survivors.
It is claimed that his barks alerted the crew of rescue ship the Carpathia to a boat of exhausted survivors too weak to shout who were perilously close to being sunk by the Carpathia.

The story goes that Rigel was pulled to safety too and adopted by a crewman on the Carpathia.
Sadly, records show that no such dog existed on the Titanic, either as a pet of First Officer Murdoch or anyone else.
Rest In Peace furry friends . . . and of course to all of Titanic’s human victims too.

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