A note about The Cuddlywumps Chronicles

This blog is written and maintained by Miss Cuddlywumps, a fluffy-tailed calico cat who is both classically educated and familiar with mysteries. Comments or complaints should be addressed to Miss C rather than to author Roby Sweet. Ms. Sweet accepts no responsibility for Miss C's opinions.

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Fearless Feline Sailed the Wild Southern Seas



The story of the ship’s cat on Robert F. Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, as told by Miss Cuddlywumps



In 1910 a black kitten was minding his own business in an English pub when suddenly a seaman took a liking to him and scooped him up. The next day the kitten, carried in the seaman’s pocket, was taken aboard a ship called the Terra Nova, which was that day setting out on a voyage to Antarctica. (Another version of the story says the kitten wandered up the ship’s gangplank on his own.) The captain and leader of the expedition was Robert F. Scott, who was making his second journey to that frozen land and wanted to be the first man to reach the South Pole.

At first the kitten cried, a lot, because it was too young to be taken from its mother. (That seaman was an irresponsible kitten-scooper, if you ask me.) Most of the crew found this annoying, but one man, Petty Officer Frank Browning, took charge of the kitten, feeding it and letting it sleep in his hammock. The kitten began to grow up to be a strong little cat and became the ship’s mascot and a favorite of the crew. They called him Nigger or Niggsy (which was perfectly acceptable in 1910).

Browning made a small canvas hammock for Nigger, complete with two little blankets and a pillow, just like the other sailors had. He taught the cat to do tricks and to climb into the ship’s rigging, and gave the cat baths when his fur got fouled with tar from the rigging. When the expedition arrived in Antarctica in January 1911, Nigger was allowed off the ship and he chased the birds that were attracted by the remains of some penguins the sled dogs had torn up.
  
To see Nigger in action (briefly), watch the documentary 90 Degrees South on YouTube. The cat appears at about 21:14. 


Niggsy’s ship the Terra Nova in Antarctica.
By The National Archives UK
(Flickr: Steam Yacht 'Terra Nova')
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The Terra Nova sailed north again with Nigger, leaving the main part of the expedition behind to do scientific work and attempt to reach the South Pole. The ship planned to sail back the next year. On one of his voyages (possibly his first, but we are not sure) Nigger fell overboard, but luckily the crew saw him swimming along in the ship’s wake, so they launched a boat to save him. In short order he was rescued and taken to the warm engine room, where he was dried off and given some brandy (which I think is not good for cats, so do not try this at home).

Meanwhile, things had not gone well for Scott’s expedition to the pole. Scott and four other men did reach the South Pole on January 16, 1912, only to find that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundson had beaten them to it. Finding that they had lost the race to the pole by only a few days was dispiriting enough, but there was worse to come as the party ran into bad weather on their return trek. Unable to move on, the weakened, frostbitten men began to die. Scott made his last diary entry on March 29:

I do not think we can hope for better things now. We are getting weaker and the end cannot be far. It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.

Eight months later the men’s tent was discovered with three bodies inside (two others had perished elsewhere; one of them when, sick and knowing he was delaying his companions, he went alone into the blizzard and was never seen again).

In January 2013 the Terra Nova returned to take the remaining men home. On his final voyage back toward England, Nigger fell overboard again, but this time he was not saved. This ship’s cat did not have a long life, but what a life it was.

Sources

Meredith Hooper, The Longest Winter: Scott’s Other Heroes (2010).

Val Lewis. Ships’ Cats in War and Peace (revised ed. 2002).

Griffith Taylor. With Scott: The Silver Lining (1916).

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