Caturday felids: Mrs. Chippy, the intrepid Antarctic cat

November 23, 2019 • 8:00 am

I rarely repost anything, but this was too appropriate not to show again. Originally posted in 2015, it’s appearing here once more because the subject is perfect for a trip to Antarctica. It is the tale of Mrs. Chippy, an intrepid exploring cat.

The original post is below, which I’ve updated a bit. Tomorrow we’ll have a visit to Elephant Island, the place where Mrs. Chippy’s staff went after they abandoned ship and shot all the animals (including the cat!).


I thought I’d posted about the famous cat “Mrs. Chippy” before, but I can’t find a record. So let me introduce a cat who went to the Antarctic —a brave cat who met a sad fate. You can read her story on Wikipedia, but suffice it to say that Mrs. Chippy was the ship’s cat on the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition to the Antarctic in 1914 led by Sir Ernest Shackleton (it was three years until the story was over). Further, the “she” was actually a he. “Mrs. Chippy” was either a cis male or a genderfluid felid.

From Wikipedia:

Mrs. Chippy, a tiger-striped tabby, was taken on board the Endurance by Harry McNish [JAC: it’s also spelled “McNeish”], the carpenter nicknamed “Chippy” (as in chips of wood, chipsor chippy being a standard British nickname for a carpenter or for a man named Carpenter), as a ship’s cat. One month after the ship set sail for Antarctica it was discovered that, despite her name, Mrs. Chippy was actually a male, but by that time the name had stuck. He was described as “full of character” by members of the expedition and impressed the crew by his ability to walk along the ship’s inch-wide rails in even the roughest seas.

Mrs. Chippy on the shoulder of crew member Perce Blackborow

Sadly, when Shackleton’s ship the Endurance became hopelessly trapped and thn crushed in Antarctic ice, the cat and several dogs were ordered to be shot before the crew began its long journey (ultimately all were saved). Wikipedia shows this painting:

The painting Mrs Chippy, by Wolf Howard, shows the cat “about to be shot”, while in the background the crew launch a small open boat on a rescue mission and Endurance is stuck in the ice. The painting was shown in The Stuckists Punk Victorian at the Walker Art Gallery during the 2004 Liverpool Biennial.


Purr ‘n’ Fur gives the wrenching tale of Mrs. Chippy’s demise:

When the time came the biologist, Robert Clark, picked up Mrs Chippy and gave him an affectionate hug and stroke. Crew members paid their respects with a caress, a stroke or a tickle under the chin; the cat had been their companion throughout all their adversity and a great source of comfort in their numerous hardships. Mrs Chippy, of course, loved all the attention and treated it as his due.

Mrs Chippy’s demise

Authors tended not to dwell upon the final playing out of the sad tale. It seems that after the crew had made their farewells McNish probably took the cat into his tent to say his goodbyes, when the steward Blackborow somehow rustled up a bowl of sardines — Mrs Chippy’s favourite and a real treat. He ate them with obvious pleasure, then washed and stretched out for a good sleep, little knowing it was to be a never-ending one. It is possible that the sardines were laced with a sleep-inducing drug. Blackborow returned once to embrace the cat tightly, telling him how glad he was that they had been shipmates, and then left.

In his book South, published in 1919, Shackleton himself states that on the afternoon of 29 October 1915 the cat and some of the puppies were to be shot. The following day Hurley wrote in his diary, ‘Sally’s 4 pups, Sue’s Sirius and McNish’s cat, Mrs Chippy shot at 2:55 p.m.’ It seems the task was undertaken by Frank Wild, Shackleton’s second-in-command. (Five dog teams were subsequently destroyed in the same manner in January 1916, and the remaining two in March.) McNish had little time to mourn his beloved cat, as he had much work to do preparing and modifying the three lifeboats for sea; the lives of all the men would depend on these boats. But from that time on the carpenter had a growing resentment for Shackleton, and as their escape expedition went on it became harder and harder for the leader to control him. One result was that Shackleton did not recommend McNish for the award of a Polar Medal, despite the vital part his carpentry skills had played in ensuring the survival of the lifeboats — and thus the men’s lives — in some of the most hostile seas in the world.

But McNish and Chippy were reunited—sort of. As Atlas Obscura reports, a bronze statue of Mr(s). Chippy was placed on McNeish’s grave in New Zealand:

Harry McNeish was a carpenter on 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. He was also known as the caretaker of Mrs. Chippy, the cat that accompanied the men until the Endurance became trapped in pack ice. Unfortunately Mrs. Chippy was shot along with the sled dogs once the team became trapped in the ice.

To honor the brave kitty, the New Zealand Antarctic Society added a bronze statue of Mrs. Chippy to McNeish’s grave in 2004, seen as she would usually lounge on his bed onboard the ship.

And here’s the pair, together for eternity (sort of):



There’s an entire book on the cat, Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journey of Shackleton’s Polar-Bound Cat. Just the right Xmas gift for the ailurophile in your life, don’t you think? Apparently it’s a mock diary written by the cat himself. See below:

Finally, four years ago, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands issued a postage stamp featuring Mrs. Chippy as in the first photo above. There’s also an island near South Georgia named after McNeish.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 7.03.20 AM

You can buy the book about Mrs. Chippy from Amazon (click on screenshot below), and—something I covet—a rare stuffed toy of Mrs. Chippy, available for just $80 on eBay (click on screenshot);


Mrs. Chippy replica!

h/t: Dennis D.

25 thoughts on “Caturday felids: Mrs. Chippy, the intrepid Antarctic cat

    1. I don’t even understand the need to shoot the cat. Perhaps the dogs would have taken up too much space in the life boats, but I imagine the cat would have fit (in someone’s lap if nothing else). And while the dog owners might have been resentful at the seeming unfairness, they might also have been comforted.

      But then I don’t know much about the sea life.

      1. I suspect they probably thought they would die anyway. Perhaps the fate of the humans at the time was unknown.

  1. The sea is a harsh mistress.
    Shackleton is rightly considered a far better leader than Scott or (for example) Franklin. He brought his crew back.
    <I'm sure if there had been a way to bring the animals back, he'd have done it. But … well his actions speak.
    There is an evolutionary weirdness associated with Franklin. When the grave of one of his crew who died early in the expedition was exhumed, under sterile archaeological protocols, in the 90s (IIRC) they cultured bacteria (because they were examining plague hypotheses for the disaster), some of the bacteria were found to be antibiotic resistant. Very odd. Not inexplicable (despite what some creationists claim), but odd.

  2. “There’s also an island near South Georgia named after McNeish.”

    So where’s the one named after Mrs. Chippy?

  3. Mrs. Chippy’s fella Perce Blackborow looks a bit like the late American crooner Perry Como, you ask me.

    You furriners and kids under 50 will probably have to look that one up.

  4. If you think the animals could have been saved you don’t know the story. Quite possibly the most riveting polar adventures ever.

      1. I was referring to some comments upline that thought they could have gone in the boats. I could go on and on about the privations they suffered, but want everyone to read this stirring story for themselves. It is absolutely a miracle that anyone survived. I imagine that part of the decision was knowing that they would run out of food and this way there was no question of eating their beloved companions.

  5. Just came upon this page today. Indeed, what a sad story. But executing the animals was the kinder thing to do. Even in the best circumstances — but if the animals are in pain and nothing more can be done, it is indeed most humane to just end their suffering quickly. Under those circumstances, it was the right thing to do. Still, a tear for Mrs. Chippy and the dogs.

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