Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Often overlooked in the heartbreak of the disaster are the animals aboard the ill fated Titanic. From pet dogs and birds to the ship's cat and fowl, this is their story
The tale of the Titanic is one of the most infamous chapters in modern history, there are very few of us who have not been captivated by the harrowing events of that April night. What is less well known is that the 1,500 plus souls who perished that night were accompanied by man's best friend. There were at least twelve dogs on board the doomed vessel, only three survived.
First class passengers often travelled with their pets and the Titanic, like most grand liners of the time was equipped with outstanding kennel facilities with a team of staff to care for them and provide exercise on deck. There was even an informal dog show scheduled for the 15th of April that never took place. Some first class passengers kept their dogs in their staterooms, with staff turning a blind eye.
The three dogs that survived the voyage share some distinct similarities. They were all kept in state rooms, not the kennels, and they were very small breeds, taken onto lifeboats by their owners wrapped in blankets or tucked under coats.
Lady: A Pomeranian purchased in Paris by Margaret Bechstein Hays was rescued by her owner on lifeboat 7.
Sun Yat Sen: A Pekingese belonging to Myra and Henry S. Harper, the publishing magnate. The pair were on lifeboat 3 along with their dog. Mr. Harper is quoted as saying "There seemed to be lots of room, and nobody made any objection."
A further Pomeranian belonging to Elizabeth Jane Anne Rothschild made it onto Lifeboat 6. She must have hidden it very well as none of the other passengers in the lifeboat recall the dog until the next morning. The crew on the Carpathia at first refused to allow the dog on board but Mrs. Rothschild insisted.
White Star Line documentation confirms at least a further nine canines on board. It has been confirmed that someone had freed the dogs from their kennels during the disaster. The stressed canines ran up and down the listing deck, adding to the chaos. The kennels were under the charge of one of the ship carpenters, John Hall Hutchinson.
One victim of the disaster was John Jacob Astor, purportedly one of the richest men in the world at the time, he perished, as did his beloved Airedale, Kitty. Kitty had wandered away from the Astor's during their time in Egypt. Astor hired scores of locals to help find his beloved dog and even offered a reward. Reluctantly, he had to continue on their journey but when returning back down the Nile he spotted her on a passing boat and they were reunited. Legend has it that his wife, Madeleine, asked Astor to get their dog and it was Astor himself that released the dogs from the kennels, but other reports state that Kitty slept in the staterooms with Astor.
Gamin de Pycombe was a pedigree French Bulldog purchased for £150 in England by Robert Williams Daniel. He was confined to the kennels and was seen running the decks before the ship finally sank. He is last seen swimming in the water and a deleted scene from the 1997 movie shows the French bulldog paddling past Rose and Jack.
Passenger Samuel Goldenberg was enroute to New York to attend the French Bull Dog of America show to be held in the Astoria Hotel on April 20th. He and his wife Nella both survived and he made his appointment to judge the dog show.
Frou Frou, a dog of unknown breed, owned by Helen and Dickinson Bishop was, like Kitty, accompanying their owners on a honeymoon trip. It was locked in the family cabin and the separation was most distressing for both the dog and owner. The dog tore at her dress to attempt to prevent her from leaving. Frou Frou was abandoned in the cabin and Bishop spoke of it, "The loss of my little dog hurt me very much. I will never forget how he dragged on my clothes. He so wanted to accompany me"
The family of coal magnate William Carter owned a Cavalier King Charles or Pekinese Spaniel probably named Me Too and an Airedale Terrier. Both dogs were lost but the family all escaped with their lives. It is in fact a replica of Carter's 1912 Renault that hosts the love scene between Jack and Rose in the 1997 film.
Further dogs were identified as a Toy Poodle and a Fox Terrier and a gentle giant of the canine world, a Great Dane. This dog was clearly deemed to big to be placed in a lifeboat and his owner, Ann Elizabeth Isham, refused to be parted. There was tale told of a ship finding the body of a woman clinging to a large dog in the frigid water. Miss Isham was one of only four 1st class female passengers to die in the disaster.
There were almost certainly more dogs aboard the ship but the records do not survive. Passenger Clarence Moore of Washington D.C had planned to ship 100 English foxhounds to start an English style hunt in the Washington area but made last minute changes to his plans and shipped them aboard an alternative vessel.
Not always popular
Francis Millet, a muralist and vice chairman of the U.S National Commission of Fine Art was one passenger who expressed criticism of the presence of dogs on the liner. Included in a missive sent to a friend from Queenstown, Ireland was the observation:
“Queer lot of people on the ship. Looking over the list, I only find three or four people I know but there are a good many of ‘our people’ I think and a number of obnoxious ostentatious American women, the scourge of any place they infest and worse on shipboard than anywhere. Many of them carry tiny dogs and lead husbands around like pet lambs . . . “
Myths and misconceptions
The most famous canine legend of Titanic is that of Rigel, the large black Newfoundland belonging to First Officer Murdoch. The dog supposedly leapt into the icy waters and swam alongside a lifeboat to protect those on board, then alerted the Carpathia to their presence. The dog was then adopted by the Master-at-arms of the Carpathia and lived out his days in Scotland. Sadly, none of this heroism is true, it is not even clear if Rigel even existed, let alone boarded the ship.
Captain Smith did have a dog named Ben, a Borzoi. It has been reported that he attempted to rescue his master but while there are photos of Smith with Ben on board Titanic, the dog did not make the trip across the Atlantic.
There is a fleeting shot of an Afghan being boarded in the early stages of the 1997 film. A short blog post about dogs provided to the film production can be read here.
The ship did have an official cat, named Jenny, as a mascot and rat or mice control. Like so many of the crew, she had transferred from Olympic so was a familiar site for the stewards. She had a litter in the week prior to sailing and normally lived in the galley where staff fed her and her kittens scraps. Stewardess Violet Jessop wrote that the cat "laid her family near Jim, the scullion, whose approval she always sought and who always gave her warm devotion".
There were a number of birds aboard. Ella Holmes White of New York brought four roosters and hens. Another woman is believed to have loaded 30 cockerels and Elizabeth Ramel Nye brought a yellow canary. Two dogs and a canary disembarked at Cherbourg, the canary was charged 25 cents for the voyage.
There were rats and mice aboard the ship of course and one rat was seen in the first class dining room on the evening of the sinking.