Dogs in Shipwrecks [Post updated August 2020]
Today’s records are in a slightly lighter vein . . . dogs associated with wrecks.
Dogs may not be able to talk, but sometimes they can bear witness to a wreck, as in this case when a dog arrived home at St. Ives, the first indication that anything was amiss with the Charles, lost off Portreath in November 1807, the sole survivor and the sole witness. If only they could talk . . .
For a dog to be a sole survivor of a wreck event was not uncommon. Unsurprisingly Newfoundlands featured quite regularly in such accounts, such as those who swam ashore from the wrecks of the Cameleon transport on the Manacles in 1811, while bringing home soldiers from the Peninsular War, or the Edouard in 1842 off Kimmeridge in Dorset.
Another dog also became the sole survivor of the steamer Prince, wrecked in 1876 off the Tyne.
Thomas Bewick, in his 1790 General History of Quadrupeds, illustrated the Newfoundland not only with one of his celebrated woodcuts but also with an anecdote which seems to relate to the story of the Shields collier brig John, lost in 1789 near Great Yarmouth. From that ship, lost with all hands, a log book came ashore. How it came ashore was evidently part of a tale circulating in Shields and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where Bewick lived and worked and had his books published:
‘ . . . a Newfoundland dog alone escaped to shore, bringing in his mouth the captain’s pocket-book . . .’ According to Bewick, the ‘sagacious animal’ refused to drop his ‘charge, which in all probability was delivered to him by his perishing master’ until he saw a man whom he liked the look of, and he gave him the book before returning to the shore. He then ‘watched with great attention for everything that came from the wrecked vessel, seizing them, and endeavouring to bring them to land.’ (1)
Though several other records also report the sole survivor as being canine, more happily, there were other accounts where some or all of the members of the crew, human and canine, were rescued. In 1869 a two-year old Newfoundland was rescued from the Highland Chief barque on the Goodwin Sands, having stayed behind on the wreck with 12 humans, waiting for the Deal boatmen to come to them (the five men who trusted to the ship’s boat were never seen again).
The crew of the Reaper of Guernsey were taken off by breeches buoy in 1881, in another rescue off the Tyne, including a somewhat vocal animal: ‘Above the shouts of the men could be distinctly heard the yells of a fine terrier dog’ reported a local newspaper. When the Wandsworth also struck off the Tyne in 1897 another dog, also rescued by breeches buoy, ‘gave token of being exceedingly thankful for its rescue’.
We wonder if the rescuers were licked to death!
In 1868 a ‘very fine retriever dog’ kept calm in an emergency and doggy-paddled off to save itself from a wreck. It knew where to go, and, ‘no doubt attracted by the brilliant Gull light’ swam up to the Gull lightvessel off the Goodwin Sands after the collision between the Lena and Superior, which sank the latter. The dog had swum for nearly a mile before reaching the lightvessel, and seems to have been made quite a fuss of, being called a ‘sagacious animal’ and ‘noble creature’.
In 1858, a ‘much exhausted’ black Newfoundland was picked up at sea ‘half a league from the pier head’ at Mullion the morning after two ships in harbour were driven out to sea and smashed onto the shore west of Mullion.
Somewhat more famous was Monte, the St. Bernard plucked to safety by the greatest lifeboatman of all time, Cox’n Henry Blogg, from the Monte Nevoso aground on Haisbro’ Sand in 1932. Monte is the star of the RNLI Henry Blogg museum where a photograph of Monte can be seen with his rescuer and owner (shown in the link). A pet dog also made the news when rescued from the wreck of the Terukuni Maru, mined in the Thames in 1939.
Dogs could also be the rescuer rather than the rescued and it is no surprise that a Newfoundland was involved in the following incident in 1815. The breed became famous for its lifesaving capabilities and instincts, a reputation which persists to this day. The ‘sagacious canine perseverance’ of one Newfoundland who doggedly (sorry . . . ) swam ashore with a lead line resulted in a successful rescue operation from the Durham Packet off Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.
From this we have learnt not only of the part that dogs, especially Newfoundlands, have played in our wreck heritage, but also that the word of choice was ‘sagacious’!
(1) Bewick, T. 1790 A General History of Quadrupeds (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Hodgson, Beilby & Bewick)