Mrs. Chippy - Henry's cat aboard the Endurance
Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition:
The Remarkable Journal of Shackleton's Polar-Bound
Free world delivery
The Endurance Expedition
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 authorities.
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 act.
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 artist.
It is probably not an exaggeration
that McNish's work in these matters was vital to the subsequent
survival and rescue of the whole crew.
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
McNish's rebellion 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
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 (nee Wade).
Chippy McNish married three
Smith 1895 ( died February 1898 )
Timothy December 1898 ( died December 1904 )
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 time:
"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
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 go by.
References to 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 selected
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, McNeish,
McCarthy, Vincent, and myself.
- The final stage
of the journey had still to be attempted. I realized
that the condition of the party generally, and particularly
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 the island.
- The 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
- 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 station.
- 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.
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 Henry McNish
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 Island
Clark, Robert S.
Green, Charles J.
Hudson, Hubert T.
Hurley, James F. (Frank)
Hussey, Leonard D. A.
James, Reginald W.
Kerr, A. J.
Macklin, Dr. Alexander H.
Marston, George E.
McIlroy, Dr. James A.
Motor Expert and Storekeeper
Shackleton, Ernest H.
Second in Command
Wordie, James M.