Ernest Shackleton personally killed the ship’s cat

Shackleton and Endurance
Shackleton and Endurance
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Sir Ernest Shackleton (15 February 1874 – 5 January 1922) was a famous polar explorer. He led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He failed to become the first to reach the south pole. That honour went to Amundsen a Norwegian who used dogs in 1911. Shackleton was knighted for getting to within 112 miles of the south pole in 19092.

Shackleton returned to Antarctica to try and cross it from sea to sea via the pole (1914-1917). Unfortunately, he lost his ship, Endurance, in pack ice. The ship was crushed. He appears to have been less successful and less heroic than we are led to believe.

Apparently, this icon of British heroism was an appalling commander1. Firstly, he lost his ship, destroyed by the ice, as mentioned. He watched his ship “reduced to matchwood”1. For a captain to lose his ship this way was an embarrassment.

He then proceeded to personally “murder” the ship’s cat, Mrs Chippy, because there was not enough food for the cat and the sailors. Mrs Chippy was actually a tomcat. His owner was the ship’s carpenter, Harry McNish who argued with Shakleton over the order to shot all the dogs and Mrs Chippy before embarking on the rescue mission.

McNish was denied the Polar Medal on his arrival back home in England. In lieu of the medal a bronze statue of Mrs Chippy was placed on McNish’s grave as a recognition of all he did to get the crew home and the sacrifices that he made as a carpenter.

Update from a comment dated November 6th, 2022: “Actually, Sir Shackleton did not personally kill the ship’s cat. The sad duty was carried out by 2nd in command, Frank Wild, acting under orders. The entire crew were greatly distressed over the loss of ship’s cat and dogs. All the journals and diaries recorded by the ship’s crew bears this fact out.”

Sailors don’t like the loss of the ship’s cats because it brings bad luck. It also has an effect on morale1.

Well, as far as I am concerned, he is no hero to me, solely on the basis that he personally killed Mrs Chippy! Note: Having learned that he commanded the cat to be killed makes little difference to my opinion. It is the same difference: ordering someone to kill and doing it yourself. Certainly, in criminal law this is the case,

This is just a little snippet of cat history.

Update from the Wikipedia entry and published here under a CC license:

After the Endurance became trapped in pack ice and was destroyed, Shackleton decided that Mrs Chippy and five of the sled dogs that had been carried on board would not survive. In a diary entry dated 29 October 1915 he recorded:

This afternoon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot. We could not undertake the maintenance of weaklings under the new conditions. Macklin, Crean, and the carpenter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather badly.

P.S. Please read Andrew’s lengthy comment by clicking on this link. It is great and adds detail to this article.

Associated: Cats in the Navy (by Elisa)


  1. Letters to the Times by Ralph lloyd-Jones 19th August 2013.
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Comment from Von Martin below

12 thoughts on “Ernest Shackleton personally killed the ship’s cat”

  1. Actually, Sir Shackleton did not personally kill the ship’s cat. The sad duty was carried out by 2nd in command, Frank Wild, acting under orders. The entire crew were greatly distressed over the loss of ship’s cat and dogs. All the journals and diaries recorded by the ship’s crew bears this fact out.

  2. Thank you for this, which I stumbled upon while Googling “Ernest Shackleton cat murderer”. This cat had formed a special bond with the ship’s carpenter, Harry McNish. After losing his ship, Shackleton had intended to to march his crew across the antarctic ice and it was on this march that he had decided that Mrs Chippy would consume too much food. He tricked McNish into going somewhere and killed Mrs Chippy while he was away.

    When McNish returned, he was furious and upset. He refused to follow any further orders from Shackleton and gave as his reasons that Shackleton’s command was of the ship. Since he had lost that ship through his own incompetence, he was not in a position to give orders.

    Shackleton’s march didn’t work out and he had to turn back after less than a day, so Mrs Chippy was murdered for no reason.

    Despite this, it was McNish who built the small boat that allowed Shackleton to fetch help and it was McNish who sailed with him in that boat. When the whole saga was concluded, the vindictive and irrational Shackleton ensured that McNish was the only member of the expedition who didn’t receive the Polar Explorer medal from the British government.

    McNish is buried in New Zealand and members of the New Zealand Antarctic Society who were also cat lovers have erected a bronze statue of Mrs Chippy on his grave. You can see a picture here:

    Shackleton is buried at Grytviken on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic. One day I hope to go there so that I may scratch “Dirty cat murderer” into his gravestone.

    • Fabulous comment, Andrew. Thanks a lot. I’ll refer to it in the article to point people to it. It is too good to miss. Happy Christmas.

  3. He was a nasty piece of work so I’m glad he missed his goal, I would like to knock his hat off with a big stick then beat him round the ears with it. Murderer!

  4. He was no hero to me either. Fancy killing Mrs Chippy, I hardly think what the poor cat ate would satisfy any sailor’s appetite!
    He probably did it out of spite and I’m glad he only lived 48 years himself.
    Being a ‘Sir’ doesn’t give anyone the privelege of a long life.

        • lol Marc yes he is ugly, by his mean face I should think he treated his sailors badly too as well as the poor cat.

      • Michael it turns out I can stop the automatic video but everytime a page loads it starts full volume. It’s an ad for Orange. I hate those shameless b**t*rds – they just make people hate them with automatically loading up sound on a web page – sadly I have my service with them. They don’t treat me well either. Its the ad on the right under the ‘subscribe’ function. I am viewing not in a browser but a reader – called net news reader, I prefer it for organizing subscriptions and posts.


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