Fate of the pets who sailed on the Titanic

Fate of the pets who sailed on the Titanic

When the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in the early hours of April 14, 1912, almost 1500 passengers and crew died.

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.

Stewardess Violet Jessop – who survived the sinking of both the Titanic in 1912 and sister ship the Britannic four years later – wrote in her memoirs about a ship's cat called Jenny and her kittens but doesn’t say what happened to them.

But a man called Mulholland, one of the stokers who brought Titanic from Belfast to Southampton, told how when they arrived in Southampton he was weighing up whether to take extra work on the Titanic or join a tramp steamer for work that would last a lot longer. He claimed his mind was made up as he saw a cat leave the ship with her kittens and decided it was an omen that all was not well with Titanic. Was this cat Jenny and her kittens?

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.

It is fairly certain that just three dogs 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.

Sadly, it also appears that Mrs Rothschild’s dog was attacked and killed by a larger dog – or possibly killed by a streetcar according to some accounts - within just a few weeks of surviving Titanic. Mrs Rothschild was 54 and the wife of leather magnate Martin Rothschild who sadly drowned with the ship.

Miss Hays, who was 24 and travelling alone, became inseparable from Lady after their narrow escape. They even went to the opera in New York together. It is believed that Lady died in 1921 and was cremated and her ashes interred in a New York pet cemetery.

Not much is known about the unusually-named Sun Yat Sen, but it is speculated that he was named after Dr Sun Yat-Sen, born in China in 1866, and known as the "Father of the Republic of China". Pekingese dogs originated in China and were for many years held to be sacred animals there.

His owner, Mr Harper, was 48 and worked in publishing. He escaped along with his wife, their servant and a companion.

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.

Robert Williams Daniel was a 27-year-old banker travelling alone. He had a champion French bulldog called Gamin de Pycombe with him. Mr Daniel went down with the ship but was one of the lucky few to have been pulled out of the water by a lifeboat. He later submitted a claim for $750 for the value of the dog.

Another passenger called Edith Russell said Gamin de Pycombe was in his master's cabin, which was near hers. She recalled hearing it whimpering as she walked along the hall on her way up on deck. She said she went in to calm it and put it to bed.

In an interview in 1966 she mentioned: "The dog was scared so I pet him and laid him down in his bed. He 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."

Colonel John Jacob Astor and his young wife Madeleine had an Airedale dog on board called Kitty. Apparently the dog was a particular favourite of Colonel Astor who had become greatly distressed when she had gone missing on an earlier journey the Astors took to Egypt. He offered rewards for her safe return and spent a long time searching for her and when she was found there was huge rejoicing all round.

They kept a much closer watch on Kitty after that and there seems little doubt that she would have slept anywhere other than in their rooms. There is a possibility that they also had a second dog travelling with them.

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. Kitty may not have been in the kennels anyway because of how protective the Astors were of her after her adventures in Egypt.

There was a Chow on board belonging to First Class passenger, Harry Anderson, a 47-year-old stockbroker travelling alone. Mr Anderson escaped in boat three but his Chow did not survive.

A small dog, breed unknown, called Frou Frou was the pet of newlywed passenger Helen Dickinson Bishop. She and her husband survived but Frou Frou was lost. It appears that the couple left the dog in their cabin when they went on deck. Like many passengers they may have believed that a safety drill was taking place and did not realise the peril they were in until it was too late to return and rescue their pet.

William Ernest Carter, from Philadelphia, had two dogs on board. It is believed one was a King Charles Spaniel while the other may have been an Airedale terrier. Both dogs died but fortunately the whole Carter family, including Mr Carter’s wife Lucile and their son and daughter survived.

Channel crossing records show that William Crothers Dulles, a lawyer, was travelling with a “dog”. Both went down with the ship.

One mystery surrounds a large dog, a Great Dane, Saint Bernard or possibly a Newfoundland possibly travelling with a middle aged spinster called Ann Isham. One knowledgable 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. Others say there is no evidence that Miss Isham had a dog with her.

There are also stories that a canary travelled on the ship for a far of five shillings.
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.

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Ann Jackson
Joined: 08/10/2010
Great article

Loved reading this - one of the most comprehensive features about pets on the Titanic that I've come across.