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Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shakleton's Polar-Bound Cat

Mrs. Chippy's Last Expedition: The Remarkable Journal of Shakleton's Polar-Bound Cat

by Caroline Alexander, Frank Hurley (Photographer), W. E. How (Illustrator), Mouser-Hunt (Introduction)
The wry, compelling, and wonderfully erudite diary of Mrs. Chippy, the only cat aboard Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition, will delight discriminating cat lovers and make a treasured keepsake for years to come.

As chronicled in the classic Endurance, Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica is regarded as one of the most perilous in


The wry, compelling, and wonderfully erudite diary of Mrs. Chippy, the only cat aboard Sir Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition, will delight discriminating cat lovers and make a treasured keepsake for years to come.

As chronicled in the classic Endurance, Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica is regarded as one of the most perilous in history. After sailing halfway around the world, his ship became trapped in a sea of ice, and during the subsequent weeks, then months, as the ice thickened, its hull was eventually crushed. All 29 crew members were pushed to their limits to survive... including the level-headed, quick-thinking Mrs. Chippy, a robust (male) cat.

No ordinary cat, Mrs. Chippy worked with his human companion, Harry "Chippy" McNeish, the ship's carpenter, on many projects, from mending equipment to building a new ship. But his duties went much further. As he reveals in this honestly crafted diary, Mrs. Chippy's larger role was crucial: pacing the decks to watch for changes in the weather, tormenting the sled dogs and patrolling the canteen for stray mice. The days were long, but Mrs. Chippy held the ship together. Though not everyone appreciated his hard work, he was kind enough not to flaunt his mental superiority over his well-meaning human shipmates.

Editorial Reviews

NY Times Book Review
Alexander has done a fine job...allowing the cat's (and her own) senses of humor to have full run.
Kirkus Reviews
A shaggy-cat tale, in which Alexander (The Way to Xanadu) gives us the feline perspective on travel and exploration in turn-of-the-century Antarctica. Mrs. Chippy is a cat—a tomcat, actually, but a very elegant one whose grace and manners and devotion to his master (Harry "Chippy" McNeish) inspired the joke that they are as good as married. Chippy McNeish is ship's carpenter aboard the Endurance, which set sail from London on August 1, 1914, on a voyage to the South Pole that was led by Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Mrs. Chippy has her role to play, of course, and it is no small one: hunting mice, keeping watch on deck, and looking after the general well-being of her master and his crewmates. He tells his story through the pages of his journal, which record the daily rituals of weather, naps, navigation, and meals. Once they find themselves stranded in a sea of ice, however, the expedition is forced to encamp for the duration, hoping that their rations will hold out until the thaws—which, as it turned out, were nearly a year in coming. Mrs. Chippy keeps a more level head than most of his crewmates during this long confinement, and he may actually have been their salvation insofar as he injected a familiar note of domesticity and routine into the hardships of their situation ("I myself am very disciplined by nature and have set myself a strict winter regime: Wake at 2:00 p.m.; stretch, wash, take breakfast by the galley stove, greet shipmates, etc."). By the end, when the ice floes break and the Weddell Sea is open once more, Mrs. Chippy is more popular than ever. Too cute for comfort: after about 20 pages of this,even cat-lovers may find themselves feeling pretty seasick.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

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?" "Mind, now," said Cheetham, "you don't want to interfere with Mrs. Chippy's intensive study of the high seas."2 I enjoy it when we are well under way, even though it means a lot more work for me. As Cheetham appreciated, my Watch today was very strenuous, it being extremely difficult to concentrate on all the kinds of movements, ripples, running water, bubbles, froth, foam, etc., let alone look out for penguins that might be following in our wake. Continued to make nautical observations until teatime, which I took with my shipmates below. "Well, we made a good run of it today," said the Skipper, while we had our tea. "And I saw Chippy was on the job again, so things must be looking up." My shipmates are in high spirits, although I was a bit worn out. I am the only one who takes that particular watch station, so it is rather a strain. And it is only one of my many duties.3

January 16th. Stern watch cancelled on account of no movement at all today.4 Continued my duties below in boiler room, waking just before teatime. Joined my shipmates in the wardroom, where Wordie had spread some new specimens, i.e., iceberg lumps, on one of the tables. We are a proper Expedition, of course, which means we don't just explore, but also do work important to Science, collecting rocks, lumps, gravel and soforth, as well as Biological specimens, to which I occasionally contribute. Joined my colleagues at the table to conduct a brief investigation of the specimens with the tip of my paw, observing range and types of movement, etc., both on the table and then on the floor. "I see Mrs. Chippy's analyzing the effects of gravity again," said James to Wordie, as I leaned over the edge of the table to observe the progress of one of the specimens as it rolled in a very satisfactory manner under the table.5 "I hope you're recording the results," he said. "Oh yes," said Wordie, "I keep a special file on Chippy's various contributions." This was exceedingly gratifying to learn, as I don't really have occasion to write up reports and so forth, on top of my many nautical duties. Wordie was just reaching down to retrieve the lump when old Lees spoke up from one of the other tables, where he had been pretending to read his book. "So Chippy's allowed on the tables, now?" he asked in his peevish voice. My shipmates all stopped what they were doing and looked at him. "Well," said Wordie, slowly. "I don't see the harm in it." Lees rolled his eyes in a rude way and went back to pretending to read his book. My shipmates looked at each other and started to laugh. Lees is not at all scientifically minded and is completely out of his element when it comes to these kinds of professional exchanges.6

January 17th. Up early a little past noon, joining my shipmates on deck for First Watch. Found everyone gathered at the rails, grumbling and growling about the ice.7 On days when we don't move everyone is very dull and preoccupied, and not at all social. Cancelled aft watch on account of there being no wake and also a lot of snow blowing, and determined to finish my duties below.8 Was distracted by the dogs' rude, uncouth barking and decided to take a shortcut across their roofs, just to update myself on their situation. Nimbly jumping up, I strolled across the line of kennels, stopping midway to sniff the air and take in the view. What a lot of noise! My word, these dogs are very un-seamanlike! Was casually cleaning my whiskers on top of the middle kennel when I was joined by Blackborow.9 "What have you been up to now, Mrs. Chips?" he said. He leaned across the kennel top to rub my head. "Poor doggies," he said, laughing. Blackborow is a good sort, so I let him rub my head and stroke my shoulders. "Come on," he said, "before you get into trouble." I noted that Macklin was running over to see what the commotion was all about and as I'd finished my watch I let Blackborow accompany me inside on his shoulder. This fretting about the dogs "losing condition" is all a lot of nonsense.10 There is nothing wrong with them that an honest day's work wouldn't cure. Now that they've stopped being seasick, all they do is lie around all day eating and making a lot of noise, which comes of them having been assigned no specific Duties like the proper members of our Expedition. Watched over Blackborow's shoulder as Macklin lay into them, cuffing them into order. To bed early between my mate's ankles.11

January 18th. Enjoyed a pleasant afternoon on deck with my shipmates watching for ice and growlers.12 Everyone has been complaining about the ice and how slowly we are going and how we didn't move at all yesterday etc. etc., but in fact this is much steadier and less strenuous and also allows better observation, i.e., of seals. Observed as the big topsail was unfurled, all crackling and rippling in the wind, while Cheetham raised the chanty for the sailors. Joined the Skipper at my stern watch, looking over the side from under the rail, ears and whiskers forward, attention firmly on the bubbles and other movement. "Careful now, careful!" the Skipper kept calling out. "Easy with the rudder."13 Continued to look intently over the rail, closely observing growlers and water, leaning forward—"Chippy!" said the Skipper suddenly; then called out, "I think it might be wise if someone were to relieve Mrs. Chippy of this somewhat slippery watch." "Come on," said Bakewell, stepping forward and scooping me up. "It wouldn't do to have the First Mate tumble overboard again."14 Accompanied Bakewell under his arm to the main hatch, then went below for tea. The Skipper knows how demanding that particular watch station is, and knows, too, how I tend to overextend myself in my duties. Enjoyed a little snooze in the wardroom after tea, listening to my shipmates discuss the ice and Conditions. "The character of the ice has changed," said the Boss.15 "Yes," said the Skipper. "It's like sailing into a pudding." A splendid conclusion to our day.

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