Mrs. Chippy - Henry's cat aboard the
Mrs. Chippy's Last
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound
Free world delivery
Henry McNish often
collects an extra "e" in his surname name
to become McNeish, how this came about is not clear,
but a measure of the pervasiveness of the error is seen
in the fact that in 1998 "McNeish Island"
off South Georgia became renamed "McNish Island"
only on submittal of his birth certificate to the relevant
McNish was one of the
oldest members of the expedition, a Scot of whom Shackleton
wrote was "the only man I'm not dead certain of".
This somewhat curmudgeonly figure was the ships carpenter
so earning the name "Chippy" (sometimes "Chips")
as so many other carpenters have been. He was actually
more than a carpenter, being a shipwright and so able
to build boats and ships from raw materials, this placed
him in the relative position of woodworking royalty
compared to other carpenters. He was one of the real
characters of the expedition, much respected as a sailor
of long standing and experience, as well as for his
exceptional skills in his chosen profession, he also
had a good knowledge of metal work.
He was the owner of
the only pet on the voyage, the ships cat called "Mrs
Chippy" (in fact a tom-cat). Shackleton had Mrs.
Chippy shot when many of the dogs were put down before
the men took to the sea-ice after the Endurance was
crushed and lost. He never forgave Shackleton for this
Chippy was kept occupied
on the Endurance as practically able men ever are, by
a multitude of jobs asked of him and also by those of
his own devising. He built instrument cases for the
scientific crew members, a chest of drawers for Shackleton's
cabin, and a windbreak for the helmsman. He fixed doors
and repaired tools such as ice saws. In the winter months,
he set about redesigning the crews sleeping cubicles
assisted by McLeod.
McNish's work was tireless
in trying to aid the expedition in the way that only
he of the men available was able. He built a cofferdam
in the stern of the Endurance under dreadful conditions
to try and stop a wide leak from flooding the whole
ship and taking her down sooner, rather than later.
He made the lifeboats more seaworthy for their subsequent
journeys to Elephant Island, and in particular raised
the gunwales (boat sides) and fitted small decks fore
and aft to the "James Caird" in readiness for the epic
boat journey back to South Georgia. He caulked the seams
of the Caird for this journey using a mixture of flour,
seal blood and oil paint donated by Marston, the expedition
It is probably not
an exaggeration that McNish's work in these matters
was vital to the subsequent survival and rescue of the
McNish did not get
on particularly well with Shackleton however. Aside
from the shooting of Mrs. Chippy, this probably stemmed
from a disagreement when the Endurance was crushed and
lost, McNish wanted to be allowed to build a Sloop from
her salvaged timbers, Shackleton dismissed the idea.
McNish was not adverse
to voicing his opinion, he was prone to questioning
authority and speaking his mind, an attitude that clashed
directly with one of Shackleton's main principals, that
of loyalty. This came to a head on the ice when he questioned
the wisdom of dragging the boats across what at times
seemed impassable terrain, and possibly causing them
irreparable damage. It is reported, though not entirely
clearly, that Shackleton had threatened McNish with
being shot if he did not join in with the other men
and obey orders. Shackleton wrote "I shall never forgive
him in this time of strain and stress".
was absurd and also logical, normal contracts on ships
last as long as the ship survives, if the ship is lost,
the men are no longer under obligation to obey orders,
though neither are they paid. McNish thought that as
the Endurance was lost, so Shackleton could no longer
give orders as so McNish was a free man to do as he
wanted, as were the other crew members (McNish fancied
himself as something of a maritime lawyer in this respect).
The absurdity came from the fact that McNish would have
quickly died if alone on the sea-ice of the Weddell
Sea, and could not be expected to accompany the rest
of the party if he were not to obey orders and do his
part. Shackleton eventually won him around logically
(in addition to his pistol) with the argument that there
was an unusual clause in the contract for this expedition
that required the men to obey orders not only on the
ship, but also ashore. There was the critical issue
that this also meant the men were paid even though the
ship was lost - against the normal scheme of things.
Later on, back in England,
Shackleton denied Chippy the Polar Medal, given to all
but 4 of the expedition members, largely due to this
rebellion on the ice.
Identified as a possible
insurgent, Shackleton chose Chippy for the boat journey
to South Georgia mainly to remove him from Elephant
Island where he felt he may ferment unrest and depress
morale amongst those remaining behind and awaiting rescue.
On South Georgia, Chippy ever active and inventive took
2-inch brass screws from the James Caird to make spiked
boots for Shackleton, Crean and Worsley on their
trek across the uncharted mountains and glaciers
to the whaling stations and rescue.
Chippy was the third
eldest of eleven children born to his father John McNish
a shoemaker and journeyman and mother, Mary Jane McNish
Chippy McNish married
Jessie Smith 1895 ( died February
Ellen Timothy December 1898 ( died
December 1904 )
Lizzie Littlejohn 29th March 1907
( divorced 2nd March 1918 )
He held strong socialist
views all his life which explains his attitude on the
ice with Shackleton where he saw the perceived lack
of wages as reason not to obey orders. He was a member
of the United Free Church of Scotland and was known
to detest the use of foul language.
After the expedition
McNish returned to the Merchant Navy and worked on various
ships. He often complained that the extreme cold and
soaking conditions he had experienced in the boat journey
on the James Caird had left him so that his bones permanently
ached. Other people who knew him say that he would often
refuse to shake hands because of the pain. He suffered
poor health and after a serious work accident had to
retire at 60 years old.
Unable to work, Chippy
fell on had times and became destitute, he entered the
Ohiro Benevolent Home, New Zealand where his illness
worsened, he died in 1930 in Wellington Hospital.
The New Zealanders looked upon McNish in a more
sympathetic light than Shackleton, and on his death
the New Zealand Ministers of Internal Affairs and of
Defence arranged a funeral with full Naval honours at
the expense of the New Zealand Government. The British
warship H.M.S. Dunedin just happened to be in port at
"The remains were
borne on a Gun Carriage provided by The Royal New
Zealand Artillery, draped in the Union Jack flag
and led by a firing party of 12 men from H.M.S.
Dunedin with arms reversed. The horse drawn Gun
Carriage was escorted by 4 pall-bearers either side
(Petty Officers from the Dunedin)."
His coffin was conveyed
to Karori Cemetery, Wellington where Chippy lies buried
in plot 30C.O.C.2.
Ironically as they
did not get on at all on the expedition, McNish is buried
just 41 plots further along from Thomas Hans Orde-Lees
who was laid to rest some 28 years later. They both
write in their diaries of their dislike for each other,
though there are entries which suggest that in other
ways they respected one another's skills.
McNish's cat "Mrs Chippy" is also honoured,
the New Zealand Antarctic Society has remodelled McNish's
grave to include a small statue of his beloved cat who
now sits comfortably at his feet watching the world
Chippy McNish in Shackleton's book "South!"
- The quarters
in the 'tween decks were completed by the
10th, and the men took possession of the cubicles
that had been built. The largest cubicle contained
Macklin, McIlroy, Hurley, and Hussey and it
was named "The Billabong." Clark and Wordie
lived opposite in a room called "Auld Reekie."
Next came the abode of "The Nuts" or engineers,
followed by "The Sailors' Rest," inhabited
by Cheetham and
- I finally
McCarthy, and Vincent in addition to Worsley
and Crean. The crew seemed a strong one, and
as I looked at the men I felt confidence increasing.
The decision made, I walked through the blizzard
with Worsley and Wild to examine the James Caird.
The 20-ft. boat had never looked big; she appeared
to have shrunk in some mysterious way when I
viewed her in the light of our new undertaking.
The weather was fine on April 23, and we hurried
forward our preparations. It was on this day
I decided finally that the crew for the James
Caird should consist of Worsley, Crean,
McCarthy, Vincent, and myself.
final stage of the journey had still to be attempted.
I realized that the condition of the party generally,
and particularly of
McNeish and Vincent,
would prevent us putting to sea again except
under pressure of dire necessity. Our boat,
moreover, had been weakened by the cutting away
of the topsides, and I doubted if we could weather
weather was bad on Tuesday, May 16, and we stayed
under the boat nearly all day. The quarters
were cramped but gave full protection from the
weather, and we regarded our little cabin with
a great deal of satisfaction. Abundant meals
of sea-elephant steak and liver increased our
reported during the day that he had seen rats
feeding on the scraps, but this interesting
statement was not verified. One would not expect
to find rats at such a spot, but there was a
bare possibility that they had landed from a
wreck and managed to survive the very rigorous
- We turned
in early that night, but sleep did not come
to me. My mind was busy with the task of the
following day. The weather was clear and the
outlook for an early start in the morning was
good. We were going to leave a weak party behind
us in the camp. Vincent was still in the same
condition, and he could not march.
was pretty well broken up. The two men were
not capable of managing for themselves and McCarthy
must stay to look after them. He might have
a difficult task if we failed to reach the whaling
- We turned
out at 2 a.m. on the Friday morning and had
our hoosh ready an hour later. The full moon
was shining in a practically cloudless sky,
its rays reflected gloriously from the pinnacles
and crevassed ice of the adjacent glaciers.
The huge peaks of the mountains stood in bold
relief against the sky and threw dark shadows
on the waters of the sound. There was no need
for delay, and we made a start as soon as we
had eaten our meal.
McNeish walked about
200 yds with us; he could do no more.
and Vincent had been landed on the Monday afternoon.
They were already showing some signs of increasing
strength under a regime of warm quarters and
abundant food. The carpenter looked woefully
thin after he had emerged from a bath. He must
have worn a lot of clothes when he landed from
the boat, and I did not realize how he had wasted
till I saw him washed and changed. He was a
man over fifty years of age, and the strain
had told upon him more than upon the rest of
us. The rescue came just in time for him.
Landmarks named after
Feature Type: island
Description: The larger
of two islands lying at the E side of Cheapman Bay
on the S side of South Georgia. Surveyed by the
SGS in the period 1951-57. Name changed from McNeish
to McNish 1998 after submittal of Henry McNish's
birth certificate to the United Kingdom Antarctic
Variant Name(s) - McNeish
Kerr, A. J.
Dr. Alexander H.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Second in Command