The Three Dogs Who Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 110 Years Since the Disaster
To read more about the Titanic tragedy and the precursor to this story check out these two blogs:
110 Years Since the Titanic Entered the Headlines and 110 Years Since the Titanic Disaster: People
As mentioned in previous blogs there were at least twelve dogs that we know about having been on the Titanic. All of these dogs were of course first class, after all who else could afford to transport their pets across the Atlantic.
Do you remember that scene in James Cameron’s Titanic where John Jacob Astor says, “I’m looking for my Damn Dog”, during the sinking?
Perhaps not as it didn’t make the final cut but it has since appeared in extended editions of the film and pays homage to Astor’s dog’s Kitty and Airedale (two Airedale's) who were onboard. The film also shows the dogs running across the deck in the final moments of the sinking which many argue suggests Astor set the dogs free. Whilst it is unlikely it was Astor who set them free reports from the sinking do agree that someone released the dogs from the kennels as the ship went down.
Sadly, this wasn’t enough to save most of the dogs with just three surviving the sinking – all three in the arms of their owners.
These three dogs had been being kept their owners’ cabins throughout the voyage with their owners refusing to have them sent to the kennels. In fact, just eight of the twelve dogs we know about being on the ship were actually kept in the kennels. As it turned out this would make a difference between life and death for the dogs with just one of the dogs being kept in a cabin not surviving – Frou Frou, who was noted above.
Frou Frou’s owner, Helen Bishop, would later go on to say that though leaving Frou Frou behind was painful she realised that other passengers needed the space in the lifeboats more. For the three dogs who survived their owners would explain that there was plenty of room in the lifeboats for their small dogs, especially as all three were in lifeboats filled well under capacity.
The dogs escaped in Lifeboats 3, 6 and 7; the first two were lowered at about 12:55am with lifeboat 3 carrying around twenty people less than capacity and lifeboat six carrying just 23 people when it could hold 65. Lifeboat 7 was the first to be lowered from the Titanic during the evacuation at 12:40am and was holding just 28 people. Like the other lifeboats it had a capacity of 65.
The three dogs to survive the disaster belonged to Elizabeth Rothschild, Margaret Hays and the Harper’s. The first two owned Pomeranian’s while the later owned a Pekingese; all three were so small that it was likely when wrapped in a blanket others thought the women were carrying a baby, not a dog.
We don’t know the name of Elizabeth Rothchild’s Pomeranian but what we do know is that when her lifeboat arrived at the Carpathia the crew refused to allow the dog onboard, so she refused to leave the lifeboat until her dog was also allowed on board. One of the reasons that we possibly don’t know much about her dog was that after the sinking very little was printed about the fact that her dog was saved. This was most likely because her husband died during the sinking. The Rothschild’s are of course the wealthy family of baking origins who continue to make the headlines today, though notably much less than the family once did.
The two Pekingese that survived were named Bebe (Margaret Hays dog or Lady according to one book I read but I’ve heard Bebe used more often) and Sun Yat Sen, escaped in Lifeboat 3 (owned by Henry and Myra Harper, the heirs to what would become Harper Collins Publishing).
One of the most tragic tales I read whilst putting this little history of the dogs on the Titanic together is that of Ann Elizabeth Isham and her Great Dane whom she refused to leave onboard during the sinking. Instead, a few days later her bog was found in the water clinging to her dog. I almost didn’t include this tid bit of history as I’m not sure it is accurate but if it is it really humanises the sinking and the gravity of the situation facing all onboard.
The dogs were kept on F Deck, and it was the job of the carpenter to take care of them. He would take them out for a walk on the deck once a day and there was a dog show scheduled for the 15th April. There were two carpenters on duty during this voyage, John Hall Hutchinson (who was in his mid-20s at the time of sailing) and John Maxwell who was 31. Both men hailed from Southampton and joined the ship in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Sadly, both of the men died in the sinking.
The death of these helpless canines truly emphasis that point but just think, that while someone let the dogs out for the kennels many of the third-class passengers were left locked up below decks so that the first- and second-class passengers could escape. That is surely a point worth pondering.