The Titular Mutt

Over the years, Sea Breezes has done a pretty good job of putting an ‘Ancient Mariner’ like me in touch with other like-minded, former seafarers. My most recently acquired friend being Frank Pickering, a New Zealander living near Sydney in Australia.

During the past year, Captain Pickering has contributed some really excellent material to the magazine. His feature stories have been wide ranging and thought provoking especially his two-magazine story (January and February’s 2016 editions) entitled “The Carriage of Dogs on Ships Over the Years”. The recollections he shares, made for an excellent read. Personally, I have only once in my life been involved with having dogs on board for a lengthy sea passage. Here then is that story.

The voyage concerned was my fourth as an apprentice in the tramp MV Trevose. Having almost finished loading a general cargo for Melbourne and Sydney at London’s King George the Fifth dock, we were informed that five dogs would shortly be coming on board for delivery to their buyers in Melbourne. Our canine guests comprised of four Samoyeds and a single Boxer dog. The ship’s Master, Captain George MacKay from the Queen’s Park district of Glasgow, decided that he would look after the boxer whilst the samoyeds were assigned to the care of the three apprentices.

The Captain’s dog was housed in a kennel on the lower bridge deck outside his accommodation whilst the Samoyeds had their kennels on the starboard side of the boatdeck. It seemed to me though, as if the boxer – I wish I could remember his name! – spent most of his time keeping the captain company in his dayroom, the door of which was usually hooked back in the open position. Anyway, it wasn’t long before that boxer dog gained the reputation of being a proper snob, since he only seemed capable of showing affection to his temporary master. He certainly had no time for lowly apprentices the likes of myself since, without fail, I always copped a fierce growling every time I went past the captain’s door on my way up to the bridge to take my trick at the wheel.

In the March 2016 edition of Sea Breezes, is a letter from George Neilson of Edinburgh. George tells us how attached dogs aboard ship can become to those taking care of them. He was to experience this whilst bringing a consignment of dogs to Wellington aboard the mv Trecarne, another unit of the Hain Steamship Co’s fleet. George and I did part of our time together in the Trevose and after 61 years, we still exchange Christmas cards. He was not, however, with us when we took the dogs to Melbourne. The other two apprentices that voyage were Michael Barnett, an old Worcester boy from London and Tony Wyatt from Swansea. Sadly, Captain Bamett, as he had become, died at his Adelaide home a few years ago. Both Mike and Tony were good shipmates.

Having our charges for company made the six weeks passage to Melbourne a very enjoyable one. Back then, the Company granted overtime payments to the apprentices. We were paid 1/9 (about 8 p) an hour for hours worked in excess of eight hours per day. This did not, however, include the time we spent attending to the dogs. We didn’t really mind this since they were such a frisky and friendly bunch of mutts. A real pleasure to be around in fact.

The Samoyeds never seemed to lack for volunteers to take them for their twice per day stroll up to the fo’c’sle head or along the after deck to the crew’s quarters. We had a very good Glasgow crowd that voyage and the dogs were everyone’s favourites. The only trouble we ever had with them was when the time came to put them back into their kennels after their walks around the ship each evening. They didn’t like this one bit and used to play up something shocking.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - May 2017 Issue
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