Cats have a long history as crew members on boats, including ships. Ancient Egyptians carried them on boats to control infestations of mice and rats. Irish and British sailors used to believe that inviting a black cat onboard ensured good luck on a journey. Individual cats have gained recognition for their adventures on particular ships.
Here are five of the most notable:
Born in 1799, Trim was a black-and-white cat who traveled on the HMS Investigator while Captain Matthew Flinders mapped Australia’s coastline. During meals, Trim would steal food off sailors’ forks. When Flinders stopped at the island of Mauritius to get the Investigator repaired, French officials accused him of spying and put him under house arrest for six years. Trim stayed by his side until one day in 1804, when he mysteriously disappeared and never returned.
During World War II, Blackie — a black cat with white paws — traveled aboard the HMS Prince of Wales as a ship’s cat. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was another passenger. In August 1941, Churchill was about to step off the boat to meet U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt when Blackie walked up to him. The prime minister reached down to pet him, and photographers captured the moment. The photo appeared in newspapers around the world.
Don’t let the name, Mrs. Chippy, fool you. This tiger-striped tabby was a male who lived on the Endurance, the ship that explorer Ernest Shackleton sailed to Antarctica. The cat belonged to the ship’s carpenter; “chippy” is a British slang term for “carpenter.” Mrs. Chippy liked to climb the rigging in all sorts of weather and once fell overboard. An officer turned the boat around, and the ship’s biologist scooped the cat out of the ocean with a net.
In 1949, Simon was traveling aboard HMS Amethyst when the British ship came under attack on China’s Yangtze River. Seventeen crew members died. Simon and 10 sailors were wounded. The ship was stuck in mud for almost 10 weeks while the two governments negotiated. Simon protected the crews’ shrinking food supply by fighting off aggressive rats. After the ship’s crew made a daring escape late one night, the crew and Simon became heroes. The British animal welfare group People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals presented him with the Dickin Medal, the highest honor awarded for an animal showing bravery in battle. He’s the only cat ever to win the Dickin. Upon his death, Simon was buried with full naval honors.
When the German warship Bismarck sank in World War II, British sailors on the HMS Cossack discovered a black-and-white cat floating on a board in the ocean. They rescued him and named him Oscar. Then their ship was torpedoed. Oscar survived, and British naval officers renamed him “Unsinkable Sam.” They stationed him on the HMS Ark Royal. When it, too, was torpedoed, sailors rescued him off another floating board. The governor of Gibraltar adopted Sam, then moved him to a British home for sailors.