Open post

“I Think It Is True That They Can Smell Danger”: Titanic’s Rats

"I Think It Is True That They Can Smell Danger": Titanic's Rats

When Thomas Ranger, a fireman on Titanic, arrived in Washington DC for the American Senate Inquiry, he had experienced the luxury of hotel lodgings in Washington, D.C.

When Thomas arrived back home in Britain, however, and was asked to testify before the British Board of Trade, he slept multiple nights outside on the bank of the Thames.

Another bedless man amidst “benches and tramps," Thomas Ranger stated he “prefered to walk than sleep” at the Sailors' Home.

All because of vermin.

Ranger and other surviving crew, on standby to be called before the Board, had been advised to stay at the Sailors’ Home in London, which had offered wayward seafarers interim accommodations between voyages since the 1800s. 

In May of 1912, however, the rooms in the Sailors’ Home were overly full—to the point that makeshift quarters were put out in the yard.

Meanwhile, construction to the building was ongoing, with bricklayers. The Titanic survivors were assigned to the vicinity of the remodeling efforts.

And Thomas Ranger could not bear to sleep there because the construction had disturbed and displaced an unspecified quantity of rats.

It’s no revelation that rats are—and have been—everywhere.

Even on a grand, new liner’s maiden voyage.

Yes, Titanic indeed had a rat population.

Rats have congregated on ships for so long and with such regularity that they are believed to have spread worldwide alongside human, thanks to our human Age of Conquest when ships dominated the open seas.

It’s reasonable to hypothesize that rats would have boarded the Titanic much like they have any other vessel in history: by running up unguarded mooring lines, as stowaways within waiting cargo, and even by taking up residence within the walls during construction in the shipyard.

Interestingly, around the time of the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster, a law had recently been enacted that mandated the use of rat-guards on mooring lines, upon penalty of a five-pound fine.

But rats are cleverer than that.

Oftentimes, rats were so plentiful aboard that firemen working the boilers had a particular method of killing shipboard rats on-sight: by scooping the offending rats up with their shovels and flinging them into the fiery maw of the furnace.

For this reason, many ships had at least one cat on board.

In the case of Titanic, this rumored mouser was named Jenny: a newly adopted stray about to birth a litter.

According to Violet Jessop, Jenny the Ship's Cat was tended to primarily by a scullion named Joseph 'Big Joe' Mulholland.

The Sunday Independent reported on Joe's own account on the anniversary of the sinking, in 1962.

"There was something about that ship I did not like and I was glad to lift my old bag and bid goodbye...

Big Joe is still fond of cats and perhaps he has a reason. He recalls that on his way down to the Titanic before she set sail from Belfast with bands playing and crowds cheering, he took pity on a stray cat which was about to have kittens. He brought the cat aboard and put her in a wooden box down in the stokehold.

At Southampton, when he was ruminating whether to take on the job of store-keeper on the trip or sign off, another seaman called him over and said: 'Look Big Joe. There's your cat taking its kittens down the gang-plank.'

Joe said, 'that settled it. I went and got my bag and that's the last I saw of the Titanic.'"

Citation from "The Irish Aboard Titanic" by Senan Molony, 2000.

As the paper reported: "When his cat walked off, so did Joe."

And so Titanic's left on her maiden voyage mouser-less.

There is no official record of how many rats were on Titanic.

But eyewitness accounts attest to at least a half-dozen.

Fireman Jack Podesta gave an interview to the periodical ‘Southern Evening Echo’ in 1968, in which he reported having seen rats behaving oddly down in the boiler rooms on Saturday April 13th—the day before the iceberg strike.

"On this very morning, my chum and I had just gone across firing our boilers and we were standing against a watertight door—just talking—when all of a sudden, on looking through the forward end on [Titanic’s] starboard side, we saw about six or maybe seven rats running toward us. They passed by our feet; in fact, we both kicked out at them and they ran after somewhere. 

They must have come from the bow end, about where the crash came later. We did not take much notice at the time because we see rats on most ships, but I think it is true that they can smell danger."

But it wasn’t just crew that sighted rats on board.

There are fleeting mentions that children in third-class chased the occasional rat.

And third-class passenger Kathy Gilnagh also told Titanic historian Walter Lord that on the night of April 14th, she had seen a rat.

Shortly before collision, there was a large party in the common area of steerage.

And Kathy Gilnagh told Walter Lord that, at some point during the frivolity, a rat scurried across the room--presumably dashing across the makeshift dance floor. According to Kathy, the girls shrieked and may have even cried, but a few boys gave chase.

Kathy did not elaborate about whether those boys managed to catch that particular rat.

But the party reportedly continued on.

Even during the collision with the iceberg.


Molony, Senan. "The Irish Aboard Titanic." Wolfhound Press, 2000.

Lord, Walter. "A Night to Remember."

Open post

“For the Rest of My Prophecy to Come True”: Helen Bishop

"For the Rest of My Prophecy to Come True": Helen Bishop

Helen Walton was 19 years old when she married 23-year-old Dickinson Bishop. She was his second wife. When they met, he still wore a mourning band for the first wife he had just lost to childbirth.

After their wedding in November 1911, Dick and Helen took off on a lavish extended honeymoon spanning Europe and North Africa. In four months, they had visited France, Algiers, Italy, and Egypt. 

Dick was besotted. And somewhere along the way, Helen fell pregnant.

Helen was overwhelmed with beautiful gifts from her new husband—he even bought her a pretty little lapdog in Florence to celebrate the pregnancy. Helen named the puppy Frou-Frou and doted on her endlessly, and Dick continued to dote on Helen.

The Bishops had read about the opulence and glittering amenities on the brand new Titanic, and Dick, beside himself with elation, suggested that they join Titanic’s maiden voyage.

The Bishops (and Frou-Frou) boarded at Cherbourg.

Helen and Dick were a particularly sociable couple; they even befriended Colonel John Jacob Astor and his very young new wife Madeleine. The Astors, affluent though they were, were having a romantic scandal and had been thusly ostracized by some of the haughtier First-Class passengers.

In fact, Helen made fast friends with Mrs. Astor, as they were of similar age and newly pregnant on their honeymoons, and all too happy to play with Frou-Frou, who Helen had been permitted to keep in her stateroom.

On the night of the sinking, Helen and Dick were alerted immediately.

“My husband awakened me at about a quarter of 12 and told me that the boat had struck something. We both dressed and went up on the deck, looked around, and could find nothing… We looked all over the deck; walked up and down a couple of times, and one of the stewards met us and laughed at us. He said, :You go back downstairs. There is nothing to be afraid of. We have only struck a little piece of ice.”

Helen testified that after this, she and her husband returned to their suite, only to be interrupted 15 minutes later by fellow passenger Albert Stewart. 

“He knocked at our door some time after the disaster. This was after we had dressed, gone up deck, and gone to our beds again. Mr. Stewart said ‘Dickey-bird, you’d better come up on deck and amuse yourself,’ in a tone that warned us.”

The Bishops encountered the Astors during this second round, and Colonel Astor chased down Captain Smith, who “told him something in an undertone.” Astor returned and advised everyone to put on their lifebelts.

As the Bishops left their stateroom for the final time, Helen asked if it would be prudent to bring Frou-Frou with her. Dick assured her that this was a necessary precaution and nothing more, and that Frou-Frou would be safe to await Helen’s return. But Frou-Frou was desperate to stay with Helen.

Dick locked the stateroom as they left; Helen never saw Frou-Frou again. 

“It broke my heart to leave my little dog ‘Freu-Freu’ [sic] in my stateroom… I made a little den for her in our room behind two of my suitcases, but when I started to leave her she tore my dress to bits, tugging at it. I realized, however, that there would be little sympathy for a woman carrying a dog in her arms when there were lives of women and children to be saved.”

On deck, Helen and Dick found themselves at Lifeboat 7 on the starboard side, nearby Fifth Officer Harold Lowe.

“We had no idea that it was time to get off [Titanic], but the officer took my arm and told me to be very quiet and get in immediately.”

Helen went on to assert that Dick had been pushed in after her, a story that he corroborated.  Dick took his seat beside his wife and reassured her as they descended. He would  be forced to grapple with this for the rest of his life.

Although she did not testify to it during the Senate Inquiry, Helen also asserted that she had heard the instruction that “all brides and grooms may board” the lifeboat, and that she and Dick were one of four couples in their boat.

Lifeboat 7 was the first to leave Titanic, and Helen Bishop is regarded as the first passenger to have boarded a lifeboat following the collision. Shortly thereafter, she was joined in the boat by movie actress Dorothy Gibson.

The lifeboat was noticeably under-populated, and once some distance had been gained between it and Titanic, a headcount was taken; Helen testified to a total of 28 people in Lifeboat 7.

There were no officers in the lifeboat, and only a trio of crewmen. The passengers therefore took turns in rowing the boat, including Helen, pregnant though she was. An exception was made for a fraudulent German baron who elected to sit rowing out and have a smoke instead.

Helen’s account of the sinking itself was brief, but heartbreaking.

“For a moment, the ship seemed to be pointing straight down, looking like a gigantic whale submerging itself headfirst… a veritable wave of humanity surged up out of the steerage and shut the lights from our view. we were too far away to see the passengers individually, but we could see the black masses of human forms and hear their death cries and groans.”

Helen also removed her wool stockings to give to a small girl who hadn’t had sufficient time to dress for the cold. 

Because Lifeboat 7 was the first to launch, its passengers also spent the most time adrift in the dark with nothing but “ghastly… green lights, the kind you burn on the Fourth of July” that a steward had brought on the boat. 

According to Helen, “Whenever we would light one of these diminutive torches, we would hear the cries from the people perishing aboard. They thought it was help coming.” And so, the occupants of Lifeboat 7 became increasingly concerned about being swarmed and overturned by desperate survivors.

As her fellow passengers became more paranoid, Helen attempted to placate them with a fun anecdote.

Helen said that while she and Dick were in Egypt, she visited a fortune teller who informed her that she would survive a shipwreck and an earthquake, but a motor vehicle accident would take her life. Therefore, she assured everyone, they would absolutely survive the night. 

“We have to be rescued,” she said, “in order for the rest of my prophecy to come true.”

Helen and Dick did survive, of course. Although Dick's reputation did not. Like other male survivors, he was harangued for his cowardice, and was also accused of dressing like a woman in order to board a lifeboat.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Bishop were also called before the Senate Inquiry. 

Helen gave birth to their son in December of 1912, but the infant died only two days later.

Helen and Dick took a holiday to California in the springtime of 1913 in an effort to distract themselves from their bereavement.

But an earthquake disrupted their holiday.

Helen was newly distraught. Two-thirds of the prophecy had now happened; despite Dick’s reassurance, she was terrified of the third and final act: a fatal car crash.

In November of 1914, Helen was on her way home from a country club dance with a group a friends. The car spun out while taking a curve and crashed into a tree. Helen was thrown 25 feet from the vehicle and fractured her skull.

She survived, despite expectations. But she did have a metal plate installed in her skull.

Her personality subsequently changed, and her marriage to Dick deteriorated because of it. They divorced less than two years later, in January of 1916.

Only two months later, Helen fell on a rug and struck her head near the location of the metal plate. Unconscious, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died within days, on March 16, 1916.

Helen’s obituary appeared on the front page of her hometown’s daily newspaper, right alongside the wedding announcement of Dick and his third wife.

Helen Walton Bishop was 23 years old.

Open post

“A First-Class Raconteur”: Chief Purser Hugh McElroy

"A First-Class Raconteur": Chief Purser Hugh McElroy

Hugh McElroy was Titanic's Chief Purser--that is, the man in charge of the ship's business affairs, especially as it pertained to passenger expenses and needs.

Tickets for additional luxuries, like the Turkish baths and extra deck chairs. Wireless messages to friends and family. Drinks. Valuables locked in the ship's safe for secure storage. Cabin complaints and exchange. A seat at the Captain's dinner table. The so-called face of the entire crew. All the job of the Purser.

In short, Hugh was The Guy.

Everyone knew him; everyone loved him. He had previously served both the Adriatic, the Majestic, and Titanic's elder sister Olympic, all under Captain E.J. Smith. Hugh was beloved for his robust humor, his geniality, and his ability to "hold his own" without causing offense. He was a "first-class raconteur" and often called the "Commodore Purser" of White Star.

Hugh McElroy (standing far right) with the rest of the crew of R.M.S. Olympic, taken in 1911. Note that he is standing next to William McMaster Murdoch, First Officer on Titanic.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (photo taken prior to 1923)

Hugh was one of three White Star representatives documented to have dined with the passengers, the others being Captain Smith and White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay.

And since Hugh was such a delight, many set their dining schedules around when Hugh had seats available at his table. In particular, Purser McElroy was known to invite solo passengers to his table; for instance, one of Hugh's regular entertainees was Second-Class passenger Lawrence Beesley.

In summary: Hugh was jolly and amenable, with a booming brogue, hearty laugh, and a whole lotta charm that came in handy often, particularly when dealing with the demands of high-maintenance passengers... or you know, when impulse-buying exotic pets.

By the time Hugh sailed on Titanic, he had a well-established reputation as a Bird Man. During his stint on the troopship Britannic during the Boer War, Hugh was strolling the docks at Cape Town, South Africa, when he heard "Landlover off the starboard!" squawked nearby.

The source was a stunning and boisterous white Australian parrot. Hugh bartered for him with his reluctant owner, reasoning that he would be a great source of morale on board. The owner relented, but he had a single condition: that the parrot, named "Petroleum Pete" to his chagrin, would be rechristened Baden-Powell.

The deal was struck, and the newly named Baden-Powell the Parrot became quite famous as Hugh's talkative shoulder accessory on board for years thereafter. "The Cedric's Parrot Mascot" was even so popular as to merit an article in the New York Times in 1903.

An acquaintance of McElroy knocked at the door.  "Keep out No lobsters wanted", was what the knocker on the outside heard from within, 'Shut up Baden, Come in it's alright" answered McElroy; and the friend opened the door. McElroy greeted his friend warmly while Baden-Powell with a look of disdain on his pealed countenance eyed him critically.

'Bum looker, don't eat much ice" piped the parrot.

Some time later, Hugh's affinity for avians preceded him, and he was asked to mind another parrot en route home to Brooklyn named Jack Binns (the parrot, that is; not the passenger.)

So it makes sense that when a prized canary owned by a Mr. Meanwell boarded Titanic, Hugh was asked to mind it. The canary is often erroneously cited as one of the non-canine pets to go down with the ship, but in fact, it disembarked at Cherbourg to be reunited with its owner--but only after paying its ticket of 25c.

All in all, Hugh had been with White Star about thirteen years by 1912, though he had previously studied to join the clergy. Which is quite interesting, since it was actually Hugh who befriended Father Francis Browne and escorted him about the Titanic while it made port in Queenstown on April 11, 1912. As a result, Father Browne took what would become the last known photos of the Titanic, as well as some of her passengers and crew.

Shortly before Titanic set sail, Hugh wrote to one of his friends, a priest named Phillip Corr, on a postcard.

Many thanks for your letter and good wishes which I reciprocate, the “Titanic” is in many ways an improved Olympic and will I trust be a success, I am sorry I could not get down to Swanage this time but I was tied to Southampton and the train service too erratic to take chances, all kind of messages to you both.

This message, though wholly confident, belies Hugh's premonitory anxiety about the voyage according to his colleague, Dr. Beaumont.

Purser McElroy had been woken on several occasions on the R.M.S. Olympic due to suffocating nightmares, which gave way to him having some premonitions about sailing on the R.M.S. Titanic, he would have nightmares of being in a dark tunnel or cave with no means of escape.

When Titanic struck the iceberg, Hugh was reportedly on C Deck, just completing his nightly rounds of collecting receipts from bars and visiting the Marconi wireless room.

It is said that, considering eyewitness testimony and his long-standing relationship with Captain Smith, Hugh was one of the first crewmembers to bear witness to Titanic's death sentence. After the collision, Hugh was seen with Captain Smith inspecting the mailroom.

He was then found at the Purser's office, trying to appease the throng of people to retrieve their valuables and claim receipts. After Captain Smith gave the order to abandon ship, Hugh went on deck and used his famous ease with passengers--as well as his imposing stature--to help speed along the filling of the lifeboats.

Hugh labored alongside his longtime colleague and friend, First Officer William Murdoch, in helping launch the lifeboats on the starboard side. And trying without reprieve to assist them was none other than the most shamed man on Titanic: J. Bruce Ismay, who was savaged by the entire world for saving himself.

White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay.


Titanic was secured with a total of twenty lifeboats--which was four more than was required by contemporary maritime law. There were sixteen wooden boats, and four so-called collapsibles, labeled A through D. The latter, for reference, were flimsier but fully functional boats with canvas sides.

Collapsible D with canvas sides up, as taken by a passenger on the rescue ship Carpathia.


As Hugh and First Officer Murdoch attempted to launch Collapsible C, a desperate and terrified mob swarmed the area. Jack Thayer, a survivor age 17, stated the mob was made entirely of men, and that two jumped down into the boat from the upper deck.

In one motion, Hugh McElroy's famously jovial voice bellowed over the bedlam, and he drew his pistol, firing it twice into the air. The two leapers were quickly removed and Hugh somehow brought the mob under control. He thereby saved 21 women and 10 children who would have otherwise been overturned--all third-class passengers.

There are multiple reports of gunshots that night, including the supposed suicide of an officer rumored initially to be Captain Smith, and most often to be First Officer Murdoch. But it would seem that at least two of those shots, fired by Purser McElroy, actually saved lives.

Hugh McElroy was last seen standing on deck near the gym with his colleagues.

There is no testimony as to how Hugh McElroy died. His body was recovered by the Mackay-Bennett and listed as follows.

CLOTHING - Ship's uniform; white jacket; ship's keys; 10 pence; 50 cents; fountain pen.

Hugh was buried at sea on April 22 because his body was in very bad shape. This has led some to conclude that, since Hugh was in the immediate vicinity and the advanced decomposition of his corpse, that he was, in fact, crushed by the falling first funnel.

Hugh’s last known words were preserved by a number of sources—including a letter received by his friend, Charles Brown, which was reported in the Chicago Examiner dated June 12, 1912.

A small group of the Titanic's staff were waiting for the final plunge.  The water was lapping the deck at their very feet, and the end was merely a question of a few minutes.  McElroy turned to his companions with a smile and shook hands with them, saying:

"Well, good-by, fellows. It looks like sand for breakfast to-morrow."

"That was typical of McElroy," says Brown.  "He was one of the merriest, bravest men who ever lived.  It was like him to have his little joke in the face of death."

Hugh McElroy was 37 years old.

He had been married less than two years.

Open post

Dogs on Titanic

Dogs on Titanic

Animals weren't scarce on Titanic.

Aside from Jenny the Ship Cat, whose premonitory departure at Southampton with her litter has already been outlined, there were also a number of fancy-breed French roosters and hens, a canary that is oft-misreported as going down with the ship, and countless rats, as on every ship in the history of humanity.

And of course, there were about a dozen dogs.

Dogs were only permitted if they belonged to first-class passengers, but there were no size restrictions. They included two Pomeranians, a Pekinese named Sun-Yat-Sen owned by the Harper family (as in, Harper Collins Publishers), and a toy dog named Freu Freu that was "too pretty [to stay in the kennels]" and belonged to Helen Bishop.

Larger dogs included Ann Isham's Great Dane or St. Bernard (my research leads me to believe the latter), John Jacob Astor's Airedale, Kitty.

The Carter family brought two dogs on board: their unnamed King Charles Spaniel, and their own Airedale Terrier. The latter belonged to their young son Billy.

And the most valuable canine passenger was an all-black French Bulldog named Gamin de Pycombe, who was a recent purchase of Robert Daniel's that cost the obscene equivalent of almost $14,000 today.

First-Class passenger Robert W. Daniel. courtesy of N.A.R.A.


As fun as Gamin's name is, best-named Titanic dogs go to Harry Anderson's chow-chow, named Chow-Chow, and a Fox Terrier aptly named Dog. Captain Smith's Russian Foxhound, Ben, spent only one night on board, then was taken back home by Smith's daughter before Titanic set sail.

Captain E.J. Smith and his wolfhound Ben. Published in contemporary accounts.

PUBLIC DOMAIN (taken & published prior to 1923)

The dogs were kenneled on F Deck and looked after by the ship's carpenter. They were exercised and taken out for bathroom breaks daily. There were even enough purebreds on board that Titanic's schedule for Monday, April 15, 1912, actually called for a mini-dog show in the morning.

We all know what happened instead.

Of the 12 dogs confirmed to have been on board, 3 survived: the two Pomeranians and Sun-Yat-Sen the Pekinese, who were all smuggled or otherwise permitted on the lifeboats because they were so small

A Pomeranian circa 1915. Of the three dogs saved from Titanic, two were Pomeranians.


Little Freu Freu, clearly sensing dismay, pulled desperately on Helen Bishop's dress as she left for the boat deck. Helen reluctantly left Freu Freu behind in her room, feeling that to insist on saving her dog when people could die was indecent. She said it broke her heart.

The larger dogs clearly could not be secreted to safety, but that was only one reason for their demise. Recall that the dogs were locked in their kennels below deck.

This changed, however, when a still-unknown Samaritan made their way down to F Deck despite the rising water and freed the dogs, undoubtedly trying to give them a fair shot at survival, or at least a less inhumane end.

Rumors still circulate that their savior was John Jacob Astor himself; this is unverifiable, though one can guess at its origins.

Jack Astor and his wife were both extremely protective of Kitty, especially since she had been lost as they traveled the Nile on their honeymoon in Egypt. Luckily, Kitty was discovered on another American family's passing boat and returned to the Astors, who offered a sizeable reward.

Kitty apparently was most often found in sleeping in the Astors' suites instead of in the Titanic's kennels, and Astor walked her on deck every day. When Astor lifted his pregnant wife through a window and into a lifeboat, it's reported that she begged him to go find Kitty.

Some witnesses say it's the last they saw of John Jacob Astor.

The Astors with their Airedale Terrier, Kitty. Jack Astor and Kitty would both die in the sinking.


Astor is also associated with the Carter family's unnamed Airedale, who belonged to their 11-year-old son, Billy.

Billy absolutely adored his dog. He had him on a leash while waiting for a lifeboat, but the dog was refused a spot on the lifeboat. Billy, in tears, was reassured by Astor that his dog would be well taken care of, no matter what.

Billy declined to speak much of the sinking even as an adult, being so traumatized with guilt over leaving his dog behind. The most he did say was that he last saw him sitting, still leashed, beside the preternaturally calm John Jacob Astor.

The Carters filed a $100 claim for their Spaniel, $200 for their Airedale, and $5,000 for their Renault car in Titanic's cargo hold... Yes, that's the Sexy Time Handprint Car in the 1997 movie.

As the ship sank, all the dogs left on board were seen running in a frantic herd up and down the sloping deck. Mrs. Astor said this is when she last saw Kitty, pacing back and forth. Frou Frou died locked in Bishop's room; no one knows how long Chow-Chow and Dog survived.

But this was not the last sighting of Titanic's dogs.

First-Class passenger and world-famous tennis player Richard Norris Williams was struggling to keep his head above the freezing water in the moments after Titanic submerged.

Breaking the surface, he came face to face with the last thing he would have expected in the middle of the nighttime ocean: Gamin de Pycombe the Extraordinarily Expensive French Bulldog, paddling for his own life in the swarm.

French Bulldog (not Gamin) circa 1915.


Gamin, was said to having been heard crying when the chaos began by Edith Russell, whose cabin neighbored Daniels'.

Edith went inside and pet the dog and put him to bed. He was fed a treat and "was very obedient and sat there and looked at me sweetly as I closed the door. I did not know then that we were in any great danger or else I would have taken him with me."

Gamin was presumably let loose from the room shortly thereafter, given Williams' encounter.

The last sighting of any of Titanic's doomed dogs was of that reportedly belonging to First-Class passenger Ann Isham.

Ms. Isham's dog is most commonly reported to have been a Great Dane, but I'm still looking for the primary source of this information; I believe that it comes from a widely circulated photo of three dogs on a ship deck (including a Dane) that is meant to represent the Titanic dogs. But don't be fooled; this photo does not portray any of Titanic's dogs. In fact, it was not taken on Titanic at all.

Photo erroneously cited as being of dogs on board Titanic.


What is rumored is that Ann Isham, a First-Class woman, supposedly refused to take her seat in a lifeboat if she could not take her dearest dog with her.

Days later, the German ship SS Bremen sailed past Titanic's wreck site. Bremen passenger Johanna Stunke wrote that as the ship passed, everyone observed in horrified silence.

Looking down over the rail we distinctly saw a number of bodies so clearly that we could make out what they were wearing, and whether they were men or women.

We saw one woman in her nightdress, with a baby clasped closely to her breast. Several of the women passengers screamed, and left the rail in a fainting condition.

There was another woman, fully dressed, with her arms tight around the body of a shaggy dog that looked like a St. Bernard. The bodies of three men in a group, all clinging to one steamer chair floated close by, and just beyond them were a dozen bodies of men, all in life-preservers, clinging together, as though in the last desperate struggle for life.

© Excerpt from "Lost Voices of the Titanic: The Definitive Oral History" by Nick Barratt, St. Martin's Press. 2010.

It makes sense if the dead woman was, in fact, Ann Isham. There is, however, is no way to verify it, or to find out to whom the shaggy dog belonged. Ann Isham, for note, was one of only four First-Class women to die in the sinking.

The final Titanic dog never existed to begin with, even though many people still think he did. This made-up hero dog was a black Newfoundland named Rigel belonging to First Officer William Murdoch.

Newfoundland, circa 1915.


Rigel supposedly rescued and aided victims throughout the night, and even barked to prevent the Carpathia from running exhausted survivors over.

This story, while heartwarming and novel--a Newfie in the ice-cold Atlantic rescuing people as Newfies are bred to do, how convenient--was first published as told by a Carpathia crewman named Jonas Briggs. But a) there is no record of a Newfie on Titanic, b) Murdoch's widow insisted he never owned a dog, and c) there is no record of a Jonas Briggs on Carpathia.

Moreover, Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who was in the first lifeboat to be picked up Carpathia, made no mention of Rigel, which one would think he would had something so extraordinary occurred.

So, as awesome as Rigel was, he was only that awesome because he was imagined that way. But this has not stopped the story from circulating, even today.

Open post

“Warm Devotion”: Jenny the Ship Cat

"Warm Devotion": Jenny the Ship Cat

On April 10, 1912, at 12:00 p.m., Titanic set off from Southampton.

And, since people love a good conspiracy theory, there are countless rumors of passengers and crew experiencing a sense of foreboding, some even going so far as to cancel their passage.

And one of those was a tabby cat named Jenny.

Jenny was a cat and Titanic's official mouser, transferred from the RMS Olympic to its new sister Titanic, to stymie the inevitable vermin population on board.

As any nautically inclined individuals will attest, cats were common on board sailing vessels of all sorts. They were pest control agents and predictors of bad weather. They were companions. And, of course, they were supposed to bring good luck.

In short, ship cats were beloved. And there are many stories of prescient ship cats throughout the years.

Jenny, Titanic's cat, was no exception.

Captain A J. Bailey of the R.M.S. Empress of Canada with the ship's cat, circa 1922. From the Rare Books and Special Collections, courtesy of the University of British Columbia Library.


About a week prior to Titanic's departure, Jenny birthed a litter.

Jenny and her babies were tended to and fed scraps from the kitchens by a crewmember named Jim Mulholland, who boarded in Belfast for the Delivery Run to Southampton.

Stewardess and Woman-Famous-For-Surviving-Disasters-On-All-Three-Doomed-Olympic-Class-Vessels, Violet Jessop, wrote in her memoirs that Jenny "laid her family near Jim, the scullion, whose approval she always sought and who always gave her warm devotion."

Sailor with ship cat and kitten, circa 1910. From the Samuel J. Hood Studio Collection, courtesy of Australian National Maritime Museum.


Jim had been considering working through Titanic's maiden voyage when shortly after docking at Southampton, Jim saw Jenny trot down the gangplank with her kitten in her mouth. Jenny then returned to the galley and retrieved the others, one by one, until all were on the quay and off the Titanic.

Titanic docked in Southampton and dressed in flags on Good Friday, April 5, 1912.


Jim watched until Jenny had disappeared with her babies.

He saw her departure as an omen and followed her lead, turning down the trip and extra pay and disembarking before Titanic set sail.

This story was first reported in the Irish News Global Edition.

Ship cat on the H.M.A.S. Encounter circa 1914 to 1918. Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.


Scroll to top