The Endurance Dogs
The dogs at Millwall docks 14th July. 1914 being shown off by one of their three Canadian Dog Drivers.
Shackleton’s original intention for the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had been to take along over 100 dogs, supplied by The Hudson Bay Company in Canada.
On 12th May 1914, he issued a letter from his offices in New Burlington Street. London, a mail-shot if you like, to 200 people he considered could and would, donate £50 each towards the final £10,000 needed to finance the expedition.
“The purchase of 100 dogs has already been arranged, but if the sum is forthcoming this number will be largely added to. Whilst no broadcast appeal is being made, it is hoped that the Governments of the Overseas Dominions, public bodies at home, the great corporations, educational institutions, learned societies, and rich benefactors who recognise the claims of science and the prestige of the Empire in this work, will make contributions to the fund.”
On 14th July.1914 the “S.S.Montcalm” arrived from Manitoba, Canada at Millwall Docks, London with a cargo of 99 dogs. Each had travelled first by freight train from Winnipeg to Manitoba and were caged individually. The average weight of the dogs was around 100lbs and some bore names that were to stick with them throughout the expedition. Bob, Blackie, Samson and Judge.
The “S.S.Montcalm” which transported the Dogs from Canada.
(photo with grateful thanks to the late Edward (Jack) Byard.)
Others such as Bismark, Napoleon, three dogs all named Carlos and some with French Canadian names, were later renamed.
In reality, Shackleton only took along 69 of the dogs on the Endurance, which were of mongrel mix, mostly bred with wolves and some of questionable quality.
Lieutenant F.Dobbs of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had been chosen by Shackleton to take charge of the dogs on “Endurance”. The impending outbreak of WW1, had caused Dobbs to rejoin his regiment and so withdraw at the eleventh hour from the expedition.
Shackleton, short on time, called upon Sir Daniel Gooch to fill the position. Gooch, an old friend, and one of his army of friends and admirers, signed on the Endurance as an able seaman. His many years experience of following the hunt and breeding hounds were his only qualifications for the post. Whilst he was a keen experienced yachtsman, he had never before taken part in any Polar venture.
Gooch left the expedition at South Georgia, having learnt that his rather grand home in England, “Highlands House” had been requisitioned as a hospital by the War Office. He, quite understandably, wished to oversee the conversion himself, and in any event it had always been agreed that he would go no further South than South Georgia.
“ Endurance” sailed out from South Georgia at 9 a.m. on Saturday 5th December 1914. McNish the carpenter, added two small pigs to its animal cargo.
During the voyage from South Georgia to the Weddell Sea the dogs were housed in small kennel-like huts arranged along the port and starboard sides of the deck. The kennels were constructed by the men during the voyage from England and then in Buenos Aires under the supervision of McNish.
The dogs had sailed separately from Liverpool and boarded the Endurance in Buenos Aires. They had a pretty horrid time at sea, being confined to such exposed and cramped conditions, and were often tossed out of their kennels during rough weather.
THE NAMES OF 66 OF THE 69 DOGS
SIDE LIGHTS (2)
Dogs either put down or died due to illness on the following dates:
- 02/03/1915 (APPENDICITIS)
- 08/03/1915 ( WORMS)
- 16/03/1915 (WORMS)
- 06/04/1915 (WORMS)
- 14/04/1915 (WORMS)
- 21/04/1915 (WORMS)
- 27/04/1915 (PNEUMONIA)
- 13/07/1915 (PNEUMONIA)
- 04/08/1915 ( 4 UNIDENTIFIED DOGS SHOT)
- 14/08/1915 (WORMS)
- 27/12/1915 (SLEDGE INJURY)
(AS AT 1/4/1915, 54 DOGS + 8 PUPS REMAINED)
Shackleton mention’s six other names in his book “South”, Millhill, Skipper, Ulysses, Painful, Chirgwin and Smuts. These names do not appear in any of the diaries of the other men and would make a total of 72 named dogs. Some of the dogs were certainly renamed. Unfortunately it is unclear which!
The selection of names is quite intriguing. Strange that out of 69 dogs, at least 29 had names beginning with the letter “S”. Was this with Shackleton in mind? Others would seem to have been named after crew members : –
Steward - Blackborrow
Bo’sun – Vincent
Chips – McNish
Mack – Macklin
Tim - McCarthy
Wallaby - Hurley
Although the dogs were well fed and cared for, they were not immune from disease. Inevitably, quite a number became ill. Tape Worm infestation and Pneumonia took their toll. They were humanely put down, the task usually being carried out by Frank Wild.
By mid-March of 1915 when the entrapped Endurance began to drift North in the frozen Weddell Sea, the dogs were given more freedom to exercise, and were housed in wooden kennels on the ice named “dogloos” (protected and insulated with blocks of ice, rather like an igloo). There was even a “puploo” constructed to house the pups born during the expedition, and a ”Pigloo” for the pigs, (which were eventually consumed by the crew). In early March of 1915 the dogs were given mattresses constructed of sacks stuffed with straw, which they soon set about tearing to pieces with great joy!
The dogs helped keep the men occupied and entertained during those long months of drifting, and Shackleton organised six sledging teams made up of the remaining fit dogs.
James assists Macklin in administering medicine to one of the sick dogs, as Shackleton looks on. The other dogs watch with curiosity
The teams and their leaders, were as follows:
McIlroy (8 dogs) Team Leader: Wolf
Hurley (8 dogs) Team Leader: Shakespeare
Macklin (10 dogs) Team Leader: Bo’sun
Crean (8 dogs) Team Leader: Surly
Marston (7 dogs) Team Leader: Steamer
Wild (8 dogs) Team Leader: Soldier
From the diary entries of Hurley, Hussey and Macklin, it is evident that the exercising and racing of the dogs often became the highlight of many an otherwise uneventful day. On 17th May 1915 Hurley wrote in his dairy:
“ Train and exercise dogs in sledge teams. All dogs are now doing wonderfully well and fast they are, especially with the reduced amount of exercise owing to the short twilight.”
The most bad tempered of the dogs seems to have been “MACK”. On the morning of Tuesday 16th February 1915 he bit Macklin and caused such damage that Macklin was unable to play in the football game that afternoon. Instead he volunteered as referee.
Tom Crean shows off Sally’s four pups, Roger, Toby, Nelson and Nellie.
Frank Wild wrote:
“These dogs vary in disposition as much as the men do. A few had to be whipped to work and some must not be whipped or they would lie down and cry. Some would make the most delightful pets, but petting is taboo, as if one is made any fuss of, the remainder become jealous and will kill him at the first opportunity.”
The dogs were taking more meat to feed each day than the men. At some point Shackleton realised that his dream of crossing Antarctica was over, and that saving his men was his first priority. The fate of the dogs was sealed. On Saturday 30th October 1915 Hurley wrote in his diary:
“Sally’s 4 pups, Sue’s Sirius and McNish’s cat, Mrs Chippy shot at 2:55 p.m”.
On the afternoon of Friday 14th January 1916 the dog teams of Wild, Marston, Crean and McIlroy were shot, a total at that time of 30 dogs. On the afternoon of the following Sunday 16th January 1916, wild shot Hurley’s team. This left just Macklin’s team and a team look after by Greenstreet.
“ The poor creatures have been on scant rations for some time. A casual observer might think the explorer a frozen hearted individual, especially if he noticed the mouths watering when tears ought to be expected. Hunger brings us all to the level of other species and our saying, “ Sledge dogs are born for work, and bred for food”, is but the rationale of experience.”
On Thursday 30th March 1916 the remaining dogs were shot, and a number skinned and eaten. John Vincent in a press interview in London on 3rd August 1916 is quoted as saying “ I ate two of the dog steaks, they tasted just fine!
The dog’s had served their purpose and the men were genuinely sad that they had been forced to end their lives in such circumstances. Frank Wild, who’s duty it was to shoot the dogs recorded:
“I have known many men who I would rather have shot, than these dogs”.