A cat represents our shared humanity during the worst of times
Readers of this blog will remember I reviewed the biographical book about the doomed Karluk and her crew in the enthralling book ‘The Ice Master’ by Jennifer Niven. That book briefly mentions but doesn’t highlight the plight of the plucky feline on board named Nigeraurak.
The spectacular history book of cats A Cat’s Tale goes into much more detail about Nigeraurak’s life.
Stranded at the top of the world in a life or death situation, the crew would face the challenges – exposure, fierce cold, illness, dwindling supplies and predation by polar bears.
Faced with the the prospect of a long and perilous journey towards the nearest settlement, they did not abandon their cat. Instead they created a fur-lined pouch to carry Nigeraurak and gave a bit of each of their rations to feed her. They thought of the cat as a member of their crew and for this reason were loath to abandon her.
As time dragged by and things became ever more and more difficult, the men always made sure that the kitten never went hungry; she was fussed over and well fed, even when it meant the men giving up part of their own rations. It might seem strange to have made so much fuss over a cat, but she helped to sustain them in the long, dark days, gave them something to think about other than themselves and was their good-luck charm, giving them grounds for hope. They felt that as long as Nigeraurak was alive, they would survive.Purr and Fur
For the men of the Karluk, Nigeraurak was a symbol of their ability to maintain their humanity in the harshest of conditions. Abandoning their cat would have meant abandoning their faith in themselves, and they were convinced, as long as she survived, they would also.
It took nine brutal months before rescue came. The tally of survivors included fourteen humans and one feline! Afterwards Nigeraurak settled with a crew member in Philadelphia and each time she had a little of kittens, one was sent off to be a part of future expeditions.
By contrast, Ernest Shackleton took a cowardly and cruel approach to his ship’s cat
“Great” explorer Ernest Shackleton with his crew on the ship Endurance (a mere decade before this) ran aground in the Arctic. Instead of saving the crew’s much loved cat Mrs Chippy, he ordered the crew’s carpenter Harry ‘Chip’ McNeish to kill Mrs. Chippy by shooting her and turfing her body overboard into the freezing arctic water, along with all other inanimate objects that were deemed expendable.
Harry ‘Chip’ McNeish (who named Mrs. Chippy the cat after him) never forgave Shackleton for ordering this and afterwards refused to speak to him ever again. Other than to tell those who inquired that his former commander had killed his cat.
McNeish loved that cat so much he fled to New Zealand and grieved Chippy’s loss for decades to come. Seventy five years later, the New Zealand Antarctic Society paid for a bronze statue of Chippy to be placed on McNeish’s grave.
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Reblogged this on Ned Hamson's Second Line View of the News.