Early polar exploration was a lonely adventure, where sailors would be stuck on their ships for months, subsisting on barely edible rations among some of the world’s most inhospitable climates. However, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914–1917 was made just a bit happy by the presence of the adorable ship’s cat, Mrs. Chippy.
Mrs Chippy was taken on board the ship Endurance by carpenter Harry “Chippy” McNish. “Chippy” is a colloquial British term for a carpenter, and the cat acquired its name because, once aboard, it followed McNish around like an overly attentive wife! However, one month after the ship set sail for Antarctica it was discovered that, despite her name, Mrs Chippy was actually a male.
McNeish was a master shipwright Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition to Antarctica, as well as a member of the long journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia to look for help and rescue for the rest of the expedition members.
Mrs. Chippy, described as “full of character” by members of the expedition, and who impressed the crew with his ability to walk along the ship’s narrow rails in even the roughest seas, accompanied the men until the Endurance became trapped in pack ice.
Unfortunately Mrs. Chippy was shot along with five sled dogs that had been carried on board.
A diary entry dated 29 October 1915 recorded:
“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. Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.”
McNish was very attached to Mrs Chippy and never forgave Shackleton for having him killed. McNish died, destitute, in Wellington, New Zealand, in September 1930, and was buried with full naval honours in an unmarked grave.
The New Zealand Antarctic Society placed a headstone on the grave in 1959 and, to honor the brave kitty, they added a life-size bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy in 2004, to complete a tribute and memorial to the carpenter and his much-loved cat.
In February 2011, Mrs Chippy and expedition member Perce Blackborow were featured on a postage stamp issued by the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Images from web – Google Research