Mrs. Chippy

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Wolf Howard painting. Mrs Chippy

Mrs. Chippy was a ship's cat who sailed with Sir Ernest Shackleton on his team's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The expedition began in 1914, but the ship, Endurance, became hopelessly trapped in packed ice sheets and was destroyed. The cat, along with some of the sled dogs, were shot to death in 1915, when it was decided they could not survive.

Life on the ship[change | change source]

Mrs. Chippy, a tiger-striped tabby, belonged to Harry McNish, the carpenter. Harry was given the nickname "Chippy" because of "wood chips", so the cat was also called the same. Soon after the ship set sail for Antarctica, it was discovered that, despite "her" name, Mrs. Chippy was a "he", a male cat. By that time the name had stuck. The cat amazed the crew by being able to walk along the ship's inch-wide guard rails, in even the roughest seas.

After the ship was destroyed in the ice, the crew leaders knew that Mrs. Chippy and five of the dogs would not be able to live, and on October 29, 1915, Sir Shackleton wrote 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. Alexander Macklin, Tom Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.[1]

Harry McNish had become very fond of his cat, and never forgave Shackleton for having him shot. After the loss of his cat, Harry fought with Shackleton during the expedition that lasted until 1917. Even though he did build the boats that eventually rescued the crew, he was not given a Polar Medal, because of his arguing with the captain over the death of his cat.

Memorial and painting[change | change source]

Bronze sculpture of Mrs Chippy on the grave of Harry McNish in Karori Cemetery which was added by the New Zealand Antarctic Society

In 2004, a bronze memorial statue of Mrs. Chippy was placed on the grave of Harry McNish. It was given by the Antarctic Society of New Zealand, because of his bravery on the expedition.[2]

The painting Mrs Chippy, by Wolf Howard, shows the cat "about to be shot". The background shows the crew sending a small boat on a rescue mission and Endurance is stuck in the ice.[3] The painting was shown in a punk art exhibit at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, in 2004.

Further reading[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Shackleton, Ernest (1919). South. New York: Signet. ISBN 0-451-19880-8.
  2. Kim Griggs (2004-06-21). "Antarctic hero 'reunited' with cat". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3818613.stm. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  3. Frank Milner (November 2004). The Stuckists: Punk Victorian. p. 80. ISBN 1-902700-27-9.

Other websites[change | change source]

Media related to Mrs. Chippy at Wikimedia Commons