The RMS Titanic is one of the most famous (and infamous) ships in history. One thousand five hundred people lost their lives aboard the ship’s maiden voyage on April 15th, 1912, when the Titanic hit an iceberg and tragically sank. But what about the animals on board? We know that at least one cat named Jenny was on board the Titanic. Her story was one of tragedy (or possible great fortune), and she may have had a litter of kittens with her. However, we can never know the actual number of cats on the RMS Titanic.
Jenny the Ship’s Cat
Jenny was an adult female cat living aboard the Titanic that was transferred from the ocean liner’s sister ship, the Olympic. Jenny had a job aboard the vessel, serving as rodent control for the numerous rats that plagued many boats of the time. Despite the Titanic’s opulence, Jenny was kept busy as survivors reported that many rats were found on board. Diners even witnessed one of the rodents running through the dining hall before the ill-fated journey reached its end, prompting screams from the women and a mad chase from the men!
Jenny slept near her favored person on board, a ship’s scullion. This man was thought to have cared for Jenny, giving her kitchen scraps (alongside the rest of the crew) and affection. Violet Jessop, a stewardess aboard the ship, wrote in her memoir that Jenny always gave “her warm devotion” to the scullion. Jenny always sought his approval.
When Jenny was transferred from the Olympic, she was pregnant. The little cat gave birth to her litter aboard the Titanic a week before its maiden voyage. Devastatingly, all records seem to show that Jenny and her kittens were lost at sea when the Titanic sank.
However, there is a rumor (or perhaps a myth) that Jenny carried her kittens one by one off the Titanic before it sank when the ship stopped in Southampton. When Jenny disembarked with her litter, the man who supposedly saw her thought it was an omen of bad luck and refused to reboard. He would have been right!
The Cats and Dogs Aboard the Titanic
We know that Jenny and her kittens were aboard the Titanic, but we have no records of other cats being aboard. However, there were dogs aboard the Titanic (at least 12), and they each had to have their own ticket to board. Because of the luxury and expense of this, only first-class passengers had dogs aboard. Of the 12 dogs onboard (and likely more), there were three survivors: two Pomeranians and a Pekinese.
The ship had dogs of all sizes, including a Spaniel, an Airedale Terrier, and even a Great Dane. The dogs were kept in kennels on the poop deck and were cared for and exercised by John Hutchinson, the ship’s carpenter. There was to be a dog show on April 15th for the dogs to participate in, but sadly it never occurred.
The surviving three dogs got spaces in lifeboats as they were small enough to be concealed within coats or blankets and taken aboard1. These small dogs were said to have been kept in the passenger’s rooms (against the rules) as they were “too pretty” to be down in the kennels with the other dogs. The other dogs were released from the kennels as the ship was sinking, running in panic up and down the listing deck.
How Many Animals Lost Their Lives on the Titanic?
It’s impossible to know exactly how many animals perished on the night of April 15th, 1912. However, the ship’s logs and survivor accounts tell us that at least one cat, two dogs, several chickens, an unknown number of rodents, and one Canary were aboard the ship when it began to sink. Unfortunately, we only have confirmed accounts of the three small dogs surviving. This means many more animals could have lost their lives when the vessel sank, and there are some confirmed reports.
One tragic story of a dog owner tells of first-class passenger Ann Elizabeth Isham. She had boarded the Titanic with her beloved Great Dane and refused to leave his side when the ship began to sink. Ms. Isham was confirmed to be one of only four female first-class passengers to lose her life in the sinking; her body was found frozen at sea, still clinging onto the body of her faithful dog.
Why Did the Titanic Have a Ships Cat?
Like many other ships of the time, the Titanic had a ship’s cat to keep the rodent population down. So, Jenny was transferred from the RMS Olympic, where she served as a rat catcher and had the same important job aboard the Titanic.
Rats and mice posed a big problem on ships of the time, as they frequently damaged and chewed through rope, electrical wiring, and woodwork. Foodstuffs were contaminated or destroyed by the rodents, and they could damage cargo or spread disease. Having a cat on board would (theoretically) keep the numbers down and provide a big morale boost to the sailors working aboard.
Ships cats were common on sea-faring vessels until 1975 when the Royal Navy banned animals from being allowed on their boats for safety reasons. However, until this point, it wasn’t just Jenny who earned her strips (or spots) on board a ship.
Another famous ship’s cat lived a more prestigious life than the Titanic’s ward and was the only sea-faring cat to receive the Dickin Medal for military service. Simon was appointed an Able Seacat after serving on the British ship HMS Amethyst in 1949. He was aboard when the ship battled with the Yangtze river communist forces.
Ships cats were commonly appointed until 1975 in the UK, and the Titanic had one of its own. Jenny was the only confirmed cat on board the ill-fated ship, but there are stories that she had had a litter of kittens a week before the ship sailed. Rumors claimed that Jenny may have taken herself and her kittens off the Titanic before it sank when it was docked in Southampton, but that is not confirmed.
Jenny was likely lost at sea alongside at least nine dogs and several chickens and rodents. Three small dogs survived, which were smuggled into the lifeboats that saved women and children from the icy ocean. One thousand five hundred people died that day, and many animals succumbed to the cold sea alongside them.
Featured Image Credit: David_Do , Pixabay