If you are a fan of the age of the great polar explorers, I don’t have to tell you who Sir Ernest Shackleton was. His 1914 expedition to Antarctica on board the ship “Endurance” (a good name) is surely one of the most perilous in the history of exploration.
After sailing into Antarctica’s Weddell Sea, the Endurance became trapped in the ice on January 18, 1915 and all 29 crew members had to spend 10 months, much of it in bitter winter weather, waiting for the ice to break up. This never happened and the ship eventually was crushed and sank. It took until September 1916 for all of the men to finally be rescued.
“Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition” is a wonderful account of life on ship during those 10 months of entrapment in the ice. And what makes it all the more interesting is that Mrs. Chippy was the ship’s carpenter’s cat.
Author Caroline Alexander has carefully studied the available diaries from the men who endured this hardship and has written this gripping account of those months from the point of view of Mrs. Chippy.
Having had cats for much of my adult life, I can testify that her observations are bang on!
Here are a few quotes: January 15th: A rather breezy day. Breakfast of tinned rabbit waiting for me in my bowl. Went on deck for my Watch, stationing myself under stern rail, and leaning over so as to observe the bubbles in our wake. Was joined at rail by some of my shipmates, all commenting on our excellent progress. “So Chippy” said Hussey, “it’s nice to be on the move again, with the wind in your whiskers, eh?”
August 15th: “Well, Chippy” he said, stroking my head, “working late as usual.” “Yes,” said the Boss (Shackleton), “one of the more industrious members of our crew, Always up to something or the other.” I felt the tips of my whiskers glow with pride. So my hard work and conscientious efforts have not gone unappreciated! I got up and turned in a circle around Howe’s feet, and then sat down again. “There was a period sir, when every time I took my night shift, blame me if I didn’t see Chippy either coming or going with a mouse in one stage of disrepair or another” said Howe.
Mrs. Chippy’s Last Expedition is published by HarperCollins books.